Full Disclosure by Beverley McLachlin – One of the most anticipated works of crime fiction this year of 2018 was from an author new to the genre but very familiar with crime. McLachlin has spent the last 29 years of her life as Canadian Supreme Court Justice finishing her judicial life as the first female Chief Justice of Canada. In Full Disclosure she demonstrates she has kept in contact with life on the front lines of the legal profession while she labored at the top.
Prior to purchasing the book I wondered if she would have written a book about an appellate judge or possibly a case reaching the Canadian Supreme Court. Instead, she has returned in fiction to Vancouver where she was a lawyer, professor of law and superior court judge before going to Ottawa as a Supreme Court justice.
Wealthy businessman and patron of the arts, Vincent Trussardi, has been charged with the murder of his wife, Laura. They were one of the “beautiful” couples of Vancouver with wealth and charm and good looks. They were not averse to media cameras.
The Crown has a strong case. Laura was killed in the matrimonial bed with a gun owned by the accused.
Defence counsel, Jilly Truitt, has spent 10 years learning her craft in the criminal courts of Vancouver and is now a prominent defender. At 34 she is also one of the “beautiful” people of the city. She knows that heads turn as she walks through public rooms.
Jilly had a difficult childhood through a succession of foster homes. She has chosen not to search out the identity of her birth parents.
In her first meeting with Trussardi she asks the crucial question when defending an accused who denies committing murder. If it was not him does he have any idea who was the killer? Trussardi briefly hesitates and shakes his head. Truitt lets the answer go unchallenged for the moment.
While every defence counsel challenges the evidence of the Crown there needs to be a realistic alternative to the accused. Reasonable doubt is created by another plausible killer. There are other potential killers in Full Disclosure but is there enough evidence to make them credible suspects?
As Trussardi maintains he was not at home when the murder was committed his defenders search for witnesses who can provide alibi evidence.
Jilly and her defence team spend long hours reviewing the boxes of Crown disclosure.
As with all of us in real life each of the fictional characters has secrets that make it harder to know the truth.
A murder trial brings a harsh light to bear on the lives of its participants. Secrets are unearthed and then their relevancy to the murder is determined.
The trial is well done. I consider the trials in Canadian courts created by William Deverell and Robert Rotenberg to be better done.
McLachlin provides an apt description of the feeling of lawyers when a trial is about to begin:
Already I feel the adrenaline rush that accompanies each new trial. It’s my only remaining addiction – the addiction to risk. Despite the disclosure, all the rules, there are always surprises, and this case will be no exception. Witnesses who say more than they should. The push in cross-examination, always calculated, but sometimes going further than safe.
There is a twist at the end of the trial that I never foresaw. It explains unease I had with some of the earlier plot. McLaughlin does a good job of setting up the reader.
I had some disappointment in the ending. It became the conventional ending of many North American legal mysteries.
I consider the strength of the book in the lawyers. I compare all fictional lawyers with those created by John Grisham. He has created so many interesting lawyers. McLachlin does well in that comparison. Jilly is very much a woman of the 21st Century. Crown counsel, Cy Kenge, is somewhat of a dinosaur but still a talented and wily prosecutor.
The title is a clever choice which has inspired my next post on the layers of meaning it has within the book. The post will include a discussion on a decision by the trial judge on disclosure. It is ironic, if not Freudian, considering the author’s background that the one probable legal error within the book was that decision.
I hope McLachlin will continue with a series of Jilly Truitt books. There will never be a shortage of interesting crimes in Vancouver from which to draw inspiration.