About Me

My photo
Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

A Dislike of Cynical Lawyers

I closed my last post, a review of All the Lonely People by Martin Edwards, by stating the solicitor as sleuth, Harry Devlin, frustrated me.

Harry is a lawyer I found hard to like as a character. I start with a predisposition to liking lawyer characters since I have practiced law for 43 years.

I can appreciate a lawyer who chooses to handle the cases, mainly criminal, of those struggling through life, especially economically. I have represented many people in such circumstances.

What frustrates me is that Harry manifests a cynicism that stereotypes his practice. For most accused there is little more to be done than to seek a just sentence yet every defence lawyer has represented accused who were guilty but are found not guilty in a trial. It is Harry’s responsibility, having chosen criminal defence practice, to represent the clearly guilty and unrepentant.

By contrast is a fictional English lawyer of a generation earlier, Rumpole in the fiction of Robert Mortimer. The blustering barrister is an acknowledged Old Bailey hack but still an optimist. He recognizes the Timson family business is the commission of modest crimes. They have carried on that business for multiple generations. Yet Rumpole is not cynical in his assessment of the Timson’s but represents them with all the skill and guile he can muster from his decades in the courts.

I am sure Harry represents his clients well. He appears conscientious in the book. Yet he does not really see them as individuals. They are an assembly line to be processed as efficiently as he can through the legal system.

Rumpole sees every client as an individual. Each accused is not a file number for him but a person deserving of specific attention.

It will not be a surprise that I strive to see the accused who retain me as individuals. I try hard not to stereotype them.

In Canadian legal fiction I see Robert Rotenberg’s lawyers in his books set in the Toronto legal community creating Crown prosecutors and defence counsel who represent people not file numbers.

Nancy Parrish could not spend the long hours needed for a major trial were her clients almost anonymous to her.

It is harder to maintain focus on the individual in Harry’s practice where there is a daily stream of accused in contrast to books where the lawyer is dealing with a single prominent trial.

Mickey Haller, especially in the earliest books of the series by Michael Connelly where he is constantly moving from court to court in his Lincoln to deal with multiple accused every day, does not succumb to cynicism. Each of his clients stays an individual and Haller continues to be an optimist.

Edwards can certainly shape his solicitor as best fits the story he is writing but I will never like a cynical lawyer.  They exist in life but there are fewer in real life than in fiction.

I hope in future books of the series Harry is less of a cynic.

I expect it is easier, even expected, in crime noir fiction that cynicism is prevalent among the characters. I hope, but doubt, future authors of legal fiction will write about criminal defence lawyers who look forward to each day in the criminal courts for they are working hard to achieve justice. Those readers who react cynically to that comment should consider whether they have lost respect for the person accused of crime in criminal fiction.

Edwards, Martin - (2018) - All the Lonely People


  1. Thanks for your thoughts on this, Bill. One of your points especially stays with me: ...represents them with all the skill and guile he can muster from his decades in the courts. I don't have experience in the law, but my guess is, that's what's required to do one's best job defending a client, whoever that client is.

    Your point about seeing each client as an individual reminds me of what I tell my students: their students' individual needs matter. Getting to know each one as a person will help you find out what those students need, so that you can design your lessons accordingly. In some ways, I think our professions have a few things in common.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I appreciate your concern for the individual as you ready another generations to enter the classrooms of America. I agree that lawyers and teachers need to make the effort to help the individual.

  2. I think I agree. Cynical defense lawyers shouldn't be lawyers not only in fiction, but in life. Friends who work for legal aid services providing legal aid to working-class and poor clients are not cynics about them and try to understand their circumstances.

    1. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. I know and have known many legal aid lawyers dedicated to providing legal assistance to those on the margins. Being a legal aid lawyer is among the most difficult of legal positions.

  3. Surely the world of fiction writing is a place to explore all sorts of characters, including those who are not the best role models for their chosen careers or life choices. Some Readers will enjoy reading about & forming their own opinions of characters who lack the finest of human attributes or are less than perfect. Sadly, some people will also have come across real life examples of these characters & maybe author Martin Edwards has met some of them in his legal career :)

    1. Spade and Dagger: Thanks for the comment. As writers can write characters as they see best bloggers can comment as they see best concerning books. I am sure Martin has encountered cynical lawyers. I express my wish again that more non-cynical lawyers appeared in crime fiction.

  4. Yes, and I wish more legal aid lawyers and public defenders would be shown, representing their clients despite low budgets and having to deal with many obstacles.

    1. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. Legal Aid lawyers face a daily grind. In Saskatchewan lawyers either become long time Legal Aid lawyers or soon move on from the job.