Review published on June 6, 2018.
This is the second in the series of Judge Walden books to be penned by Peter Murphy, himself a retired judge. Prior to that, he wrote another series featuring Ben Schroeder, a barrister (I think that’s right, I haven’t read any of those novels). If I’m not mistaken, the Ben Schroeder novels are a bit harder hitting and serious. Judge Walden on the other hand is very much in the vein of Rumpole of the Bailey, and if you like that kind of thing, you’ll certainly like this. Don’t worry either if you haven’t read the first of the Judge Walden books, these are very much self-contained tales, indeed, the book is split into four sections, each dealing with a separate case, and constitute in effect four short stories with very little crossover between them.
The Judge Walden stories are nice little vignettes, these are light tales of the denizens that populate the Bermondsey crown court. The author pokes fun at Walden’s fellow judges, the barristers and solicitors who make representations before him, their clients. Not forgetting the Grey Smoothies – the civil servants who pop by to enforce cost savings. Another reviewer has commented that when turning his attention to the clients (defendants) – invariably drawn from the more deprived sections of the populace – this can all be a little condescending. It’s a fair comment but only to a point, certainly I’ve read worse. Rather, I feel Judge Walden means well, is paternalistic, caring for all those who appear before him. Is that patronising? Perhaps, but he gives them a fair crack at the whip which is more than can be said for some, I’m sure.
More troubling for me was that I came to this book shortly after reading a non-fiction title: Stories of the Law and How it is Broken by the Secret Barrister. In those pages, the eponymous Secret Barrister, outlines in forensic detail how decades of cuts and ill-thought out reform have reduced the British Criminal Legal System to a shadow of its former self. According to that title and other testimony, the system is on its knees, guilty people walking free and innocents almost certainly being convicted.
In light of that title, Judge Walden felt quaint and self-congratulatory. Yes, the author does deal with the cost cutting and the civil service’s illogical diktats, yes, he does address people having to represent themselves, unable to secure legal aid and yet unable to afford to pay for representation for themselves. But it’s all done in that light, amusing and self-satisfied tone that permeates the rest of the novel and thus doesn’t do the subject justice. Of course, the author might well have retired prior to things getting truly bad, and Judge Walden is fiction; the author has set out to write a light-hearted comedic slice of judicial life, and as they say: the title does what it says on the tin.
Overall, this is a good book. While not my usual read – I tend to go for the grittier, noir side of crime fiction myself – this is a relaxing, pleasant book that’s perfect for reading on a summer’s day. In fact, the weather was nice when I read it, out in the garden in the sun, and it complemented the ambience perfectly. Not too taxing and certainly entertaining, this would be a perfect book to read on the beach.
James Pierson 3/3
Judge Walden Back in Session by Peter Murphy
No Exit Press 9780857302038 pbk May 2018
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