30.11.11

Book recommendation: 'Lucky Jim' by Kingsley Amis


Jim Dixon has accidentally fallen into a job at one of Britain's new red brick universities. A moderately successful future in the History Department beckons. As long as Jim can survive a madrigal-singing weekend at Professor Welch's, deliver a lecture on 'Merrie England' and resist Christine, the hopelessly desirable girlfriend of Welch's awful son Bertrand.

Available from Amazon.co.uk

29.11.11

Top American Law Blog 'Above The Law' reviews 'Law and Peace'


Very many thanks to top American law blog Above the Law for reviewing my new book Law and Peace. You can read the review here or below. You can buy the book at Amazon.co.uk

Certainly, the pompous, jargon-laden speech of the Freeman in the video clip is reminiscent of the lawyers in Law & Peace: The BabyBarista Files, a recently-released satirical novel about the British legal profession by former barrister Tim Kevan. And the Freeman movement as a whole — essentially anarchy dressed up with ritual and long-winded rhetoric — bears more than a passing resemblance to Kevan’s picture of a ceremony-obsessed legal world where, behind the scenes, anything goes.

A recurrent theme in Law & Peace is the cynicism displayed by lawyers in private. At one point, the members of Kevan’s fictional chambers of barristers break off from a session of recruitment interviews to reflect on the sycophantic responses of the applicants to their questions. Later on, over a couple of pints in the local pub, they compile a set of truthful answers.

Why Law?

“Because I just love twisting the truth and taking technical points.”

Why personal injury?

“Because it’s easy and well, I like money.”

Why employment law?

“Because litigants in person are always easier to beat.”

Why landlaw and tenant [aka real estate]?

“Because I’ll enjoy doing-over impoverished tenants and hey, it’s one better even than being a bailiff. Why, it’s living the dream.”

When they’re not partaking in these chats, Kevan’s characters are padding their bills to private clients, screwing the publicly funded litigation system for all it’s worth, and generating as much confusion about the workings of law as they can. At one point, a lawyer named Slippery reflects: “It’s simple. The harder we work at complicating everything the more essential we become to being able to fix it. A wonderful, money-making virtuous circle.”

It may be fiction, but the grain of truth found in this witty distillation of Kevan’s ten years practising as a barrister in London gives an insight into why the U.K. public have become sick not just of politicians and bankers, but increasingly of lawyers, too.

In his rebuttal of the Freeman movement, Gardner argues, not a little pompously himself, that “law is the friend of political progress, not its enemy.” Given the legal profession’s failure to live up to this lofty billing during the boom years, perhaps it’s time lawyers shouldered some of the blame for the rise of the Freeman movement, rather than simply telling everyone how stupid it is.

24.11.11

Legal Aware review of 'Law and Disorder'


Many Thanks to Legal Aware for their review of my book Law and Disorder. You can read the review here or below. You can buy the book at Amazon.co.uk
‘In ever-more wicked and devilishly-funny ways, from hacking into someone’s Facebook page to committing identity fraud, BabyB tumbles down the slippery slope from eager competitiveness to underhand racketeering faster than you can say “Objection your honour”’ Big Issue

‘For all those aspiring advocates who believe they are entering a glamorous or even principled profession, this book is essential reading.’ Independent

Funnily enough, my audiobook experience of ‘Law and Disorder’ by Tim Kevan was virtually identical to my experience of the #iPad2 #kindle version. Tim Kevan is the author of ‘Law and Peace’ and ‘Law and Disorder,’ which are both published by Bloomsbury and available on Amazon. For further information, visithttp://www.timkevan.com and http://timkevan.blogspot.com.

Tim has a very dry, but hilarious, sense of humour, and his characterisations are extremely clear. I recognised every single one of the character types in ‘Law and Disorder’, can visualise graphically some of the places in London referred to, and even though I am extremely unlikely to go anywhere near an Inn, apart from to attend an academic lecture on a topic which interests me, like human rights, I now have a handy picture of life as a barrister.

It doesn’t matter to me that my graphical representation of life as a junior barrister is probably as accurate as life as a Cambridge undergraduate, graduate or Master, after reading or watching Tom Sharpe’s brilliant ‘Porterhouse Blue’. I could recite, if necessary, certain passages from the book word-by-word; the ‘am I bovvered?’ scene is classic. Some lines are pearls of writing: for example, “Not even Barbara Windsor could have delivered the line better”.

The book is undeniably fictional, as one hopes that a real life BabyBarista does not exist, but the account s frighteningly realistic. It’s impossible to enjoy ‘Law and Disorder’ without wondering what makes Tim Kevan tick, and that is of course part of the success as Tim is a barrister-by-training. Which is why, having completed ‘Law and Disorder’ (several times), I am looking forward enormously to ‘Law and Peace’. Tim’s motivation, in part, unless I have completely misread him, is to try to understand what being a very junior barrister is all about. An unfortunate side-effect of this book is that you can’t help feeling an enormous amount of pity and/or admiration for those people who have somehow survived this process, if it is depicted reasonably faithfully. You indeed wonder how on earth a select few will make it to QC, suffice-to-say that it must help to be very thick-skinned!

Tim writes,
“I guess the thing about legal life is that it doesn’t necessarily need to end up being over-worked and stressful. But in a profession that bills itself out by the hour, there’s an inherent risk of it producing a tendency to commoditise what might be our most precious possession, that of time itself. As BabyBarista discovers, it certainly doesn’t have to be like that and during the course of the book he slowly starts to return to the things that really matter.”

(see here)

I wished to write this review, without having read other people’s thoughts on it. Law and Disorder started life as an anonymous blog and its appeal as a novel is obvious. Tim Kevan, a former barrister himself, has a sharp eye for detail. Law and Disorder was described by The Times as “a cross between The Talented Mr Ripley, Rumpole and Bridget Jones’s Diary” and Law and Peace has been described by the Daily Mail as a “funny, sharp account of backstabbing Bar life…highly recommended” and by broadcaster Jeremy Vine as “a novel bursting with invention”. They are based on the BabyBarista Blog which Tim has written for The Guardian. He is also the co-author of Why Lawyers Should Surf (with Dr Michelle Tempest).

I am also extremely mindful of giving away the story – but it’s a gem. The book commences with BabyBarista’s first day as a pupil barrister. He has just one year to win through whatever means he sees fit the sought-after prize of a tenancy in chambers. Competition is fierce: there’s “TopFirst”, who has a prize-winning CV but unfortunately a huge ego to match; “BusyBody” on a husband hunt but whose life seems to be predictably unpredictable; and “Wide-Eyed Worrier”, buckling under the burgeoning dimensions of the legal world.

Litigation is like war.” So BabyBarista is told on being presented with a copy of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War during his first day in chambers. BabyB is about to discover that the battle lines are drawn not only in the courtroom but between the barristers who will be his neighbours for the next year of continual assessment in the furious ‘race for pupillage’. It is a lesson he is quick to learn – if fraud, philandering and a string of transgressions are to dictate which of the aspiring pupils make tenancy, BabyB appears to give as good as he gets. Part of you wishes to disapprove of BabyBarista’s behaviour, in the same way the Bar Standards Board most definitely would, but part of you may have some residual affection for the muddling along which epitomises Baby Barista’s rudimentary political survival techniques.

In summary, I strongly recommend this book, even if you have no interest in life at the Bar, young people, or London. It’s a marvellous piece of comedy scripting, and will engender a lot of emotions in your wish to support BabyBarista’s career and personal success. It would make a great Christmas present for any student currently doing the BPTC, for example, hint hint ….!

In a weird way, this book I feel would be incredibly inspiring for anybody about to start their long journey with an Inn of Court here in London. Bring on, ‘Law and peace”!

23.11.11

Book recommendation: 'A Week in December' by Sebastian Faulks


`Readers will race through the pages like bankers through cash.' --Guardian

'During times of momentous change, men of letters are driven to produce works that fictionalise the state of the nation, linking individuals with historic events. The 19th century gave us Thackeray's Vanity Fair, Dickens's Our Mutual Friend and Trollope's The Way We Live Now; the 21st has given us Sebastian Faulks's A Week in December.' --Sunday Times

`Faulks's most vivid character is the odious John Veals, a hedge-fund manager, who relishes all the money that he makes and the power that he quietly exerts... Veals is brilliantly insidious... A thoughtful page-turner ... The handsome sunset is heavily, and rightly, weighed down by dark clouds.' --The Times

`As cold, impassive and deadly as a coiled rattlesnake, John Veals will endure as the epoch-defining villain of early 21st-century British fiction.' --Independent

`His book could not be more topical or bang up to date ...Faulks holds a mirror up to our drug-addled, money-obsessed society. The novel is full of Russian babes, venal politicians and bank fraudsters. What more could any reader want? Eat your heart out Charles Dickens.' --Tatler

`This vast novel, well-plotted and gripping throughout, is the first that Sebastian Faulks has set in our time... the ambition and scope of the book are to be applauded. The conclusion is suitably nail-biting and, pleasingly, love triumphs. Sebastian Faulks has probably got another best-seller on his hands.' --Spectator

`A portrayal of modern London that is both richly entertaining and highly rewarding. Faulks has come as close as anyone to completing the jigsaw that is this crazy, fascinating city of ours.' --Evening Standard

Available from Amazon.co.uk

22.11.11

Infamy or Praise review of 'Law and Peace'


Very many thanks to Infamy or Praise for reviewing my new book Law and Peace. You can read the review here or below. You can buy the book at Amazon.co.uk

A couple of years ago, I reviewed and recommended Tim Kevan's first BabyBarista novel,BabyBarista and the Art of War:
This is a book worth reading; it's entertaining and insightful, building upon the best aspects of the much-praised BabyBarista blog and providing greater depth and color (or should that be colour?) to its characters and stories. It's not a flawless novel, but it's well worth your time.

In the second volume of "The BabyBarista Files", entitled Law & Peace: The BabyBarista Files, Kevan demonstrates his growth as a novelist. Law & Peace is as engaging as Art of War and its crisper plotting will likely make it more enjoyable for those who are less familiar with the idiosyncracies of the English bar's pupillage and tenancy system.

While readers of his earlier work will already be acquainted with the motley crew of supporting characters around protagonist BabyBarista, those who haven't read BabyBarista and the Art of War (or as it was retitled later, Law and DisOrder) and don't follow BabyB's adventures online at either The Guardian or Kevan's own BabyBarista site shouldn't be deterred. His convention of referring to all but a few characters by nicknames allows us to follow the story without referring back to the character descriptions preceding the first chapter.

As before, BabyB is an earnest figure who often does the wrong things for the right reasons. Struggling with the debts accumulated in putting him through his schooling and pupillage, this time out he becomes entangled in the unscrupulous schemes of a greedy solicitor, SlipperySlope, and of OldSmoothie, a barrister in his own chambers. As he finds himself out of his depth in their self-dealing and cynical plotting and targeted by TopFirst, a rival whom he bested in Art of War, BabyB relies on his wits to see him through. Ultimately, however, it's his at times discounted, if never entirely discarded moral character which both enables his success and makes it worth cheering.

As was the case with the first novel, Law & Peace is, in essence, a morality play. Various figures embody ideals whereas others are evils who tempt or persecute BabyB in this allegorical story. That and the novel's point-of-view narration allow BabyB to always remain the focus of this story, but it necessarily shortchanges characterization for many of the supporting players. We learn more about some of the characters from the earlier novel and learn enough about those introduced in this one, but none of them are especially deep. They represent types, characteristics, and challenges, but they have little existence beyond acting upon BabyB for good or ill. The continuing adventures of BabyBarista are a Pilgrim's Progress for the legal set; unlike that famous work, thankfully, BabyB's progress is never a humorless slog.

In reviewing Art of War, I wrote that its ending was "a bit too abrupt and convenient". Law & Peace builds to a sudden, sweeping resolution of its various plotlines, but the result is much more in keeping with the narrative to that point and thus is more satisfying. As before, Kevan was kind enough to send me a copy of his novel for review and, as before, I'm glad to send another copy on my own dime to a friend, an expat Geordie lawyer, rather than part with my own.

I'm looking forward to BabyB's next novel-length adventure, though I think Kevan will be hard-pressed to come up with a fiction to rival some real shenanigans involving the English bar. Anyone who reads BabyB's stories of his own and others' misfeasance and malfeasance and thinks that these are simply unbelievable need look no further than today's newspapers. If, as is alleged, a prominent lawyer for the now-defunct News of the World had a hand in the hiring of investigators to gather dirt on the private lives of lawyers representing phone hacking victims, can BabyB's next adventure possibly be outrageous enough to rival reality?

16.11.11

Book recommendation: 'Bartleby The Scrivener' by Herman Melville


"I prefer not to," he respectfully and slowly said, and mildly disappeared.

Academics hail it as the beginning of modernism, but to readers around the world—even those daunted by Moby-DickBartleby the Scrivener is simply one of the most absorbing and moving novellas ever. Set in the mid-19th century on New York City’s Wall Street, it was also, perhaps, Herman Melville's most prescient story: what if a young man caught up in the rat race of commerce finally just said, "I would prefer not to"?

The tale is one of the final works of fiction published by Melville before, slipping into despair over the continuing critical dismissal of his work after Moby-Dick, he abandoned publishing fiction. The work is presented here exactly as it was originally published in Putnam's magazine—to, sadly, critical disdain.

Available from Amazon.co.uk

9.11.11

Book recommendation: 'Jerusalem' by Jez Butterworth


An Instant Modern Classic. A comic, contemporary vision of life in our green and pleasant land. BEST PLAY Evening Strtandard Awards BEST PLAY Critics Circle Awards. On St George's Day, the morning of the local county fair, Johnny Byron, local waster and modern day Pied Piper, is a wanted man. The council officials want to serve him an eviction notice, his children want their dad to take them to the fair, Troy Whitworth wants to give him a serious kicking and a motley crew of mates want his ample supply of drugs and alcohol.

Available from Amazon.co.uk

2.11.11

Book recommendation: 'Opheilia in Pieces' by Clare Jacob


Nail-biting drama... If you like Silk, you will love this...

On the eve of her 39th birthday, top barrister Ophelia Dormandy decides she is going to make amends. Tonight, after months of late nights at her desk, she s going to return home early, cook a special supper maybe even wear that red dress Patrick once said he liked.

But Ophelia is in for a shock. After 20 years together, her husband announces he s been having an affair, and leaves. Her home life implodes, and work soon follows suit before long, she s broke, drinking too much and falling for a client of questionable innocence. And then she is faced with the most serious trial of her life, when a disgruntled defendant comes back to haunt her, threatening everything that she holds dear...

Available from Amazon.co.uk