Stuart Littlemore, eminent silk, onetime (and inaugural) host of Media Watch, has written a book. Well, he’s written books before, but this one, Harry Curry: Counsel of choice, is fiction. More or less.
Harry Curry is sort of a series of short stories but more like a set of vignettes tracing the story and cases of the titular barrister and his learned friend Arabella Engineer. The premise is that Harry is about to be struck off the Bar, so unable to appear professionally in court, and Arabella comes to his rescue by offering him a job as her legal strategy adviser. The ensuing stories follow a series of court cases the pair carry out, all very much focused on court proceedings. (A friend who works around local legal circles says many of the cases bear very strong resemblance to those Littlemore has undertaken over the years. Littlemore himself said the book wasn’t autobiographical but it is kind of a mixture of his own cases and those he’s heard about.) It’s hinted that the pair become much more than “learned friends”, but the whole affair is carried on between the lines and chapters in a most tasteful manner.
I’ve not spent as much time around courts as many journalists, but I still enjoyed the rituals, the characters, the twisting of arguments Harry Curry presented. I suspect those who work in the legal sphere (everyone, not just reporters) will find this a great romp. But I think it explains enough of what is going on that others will like it enough too, though the repetitive set ups may deter part way through (it’s not that the story lines or legal arguments are repetitive, just their structure: crime, Harry and Arabella discuss, court time, final twist). It’s basically a crime novel set in the courts instead of the detective’s head. All that said, I’m looking forward to the sequel previewed in the final pages of the book.
Another interesting book I’ve read recently is Gautam Malkani’s debut novel, Londonstani (note, don’t read though all the FAQs on that link if you’ve not read the book). Malkani is also a journalist, but the book is a result of research from a university dissertation on the “hardboy” scene in London. I didn’t know this when I picked it up; I thought it sounded interesting from the blurb and had some vague hope it might help unravel the mystery of last months’ riots in London. It didn’t, but it was fascinating.
Malkani paints a vivid picture of the hardboys — basically the Asian gangs (being Indian and Pakistaini, largely, not the Australian vision of Asian) with a culture of extreme consumerism and affluence. You ain’t no one if you don’t drive a Beemer of Merc, don’t wear the right designer clothes, don’t have the sculptured facial hair. It’s told by Jas, a 19-year-old member of Hardjit’s crew who, as he tells it, was once on the outer with the whole scene and still isn’t always sure of his place in it.
Something I always love to get out of a book is an insight into a real world I knew nothing about before. Londonstani sure delivered. One of the things I found most fascinating is how the younger generation, the hardboys, who it seems are largely second or third generation immigrants (as in, they were born in England but their parents, or in some cases grandparents, weren’t) have embraced a kind of religious fanaticism and separatism as a way of distinguishing themselves. It’s unthinkable for a Hindi or Sikh boy to want to date a Muslim girl, or vice versa. They can barely eve talk to each other without getting in trouble. Hardjit is the go to man if any on his “side” think a Muslim has dishonoured one of their girls and needs to be beaten up. It seems that while some of the boys’ parents are pretty intense about customs when it comes to things within their own religion (Amit’s mother’s approach to the wedding of her older son and the alleged lack of respect shown by the prospective bride’s family is an ongoing strand) they appear to be more tolerant of other religions than our hardboys.
The book also delivered a massive twist on the final page, almost in the final sentence. It made me rethink everything that had come before, which is a fascinating frame of mind to be left with. Londonstani might not have explained the riots to me but it is an amazing story and a whole new world.