I am a bit of a detective/mystery novel addict.
I read about a novel a week (interspersed with non-fiction books about law and the Canadian legal landscape). The majority of these novels are from one detective series or another. Favourites include the Detective Adam Dalgliesh series by P.D. James, the Detective Vera Stanhope and Detective Jimmy Perez series by Anne Cleeves, the Maisie Dobb’s series by Jacqueline Winspear and Barbara Cleverly’s Joe Sandilands series, just to name a few. I especially enjoy mystery novels set in Canada, in particular Barbara Fradkin’s Inspector Green and Amanda Doucette series, Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn series, and at the top of my list, Louise Penny’s Inspector Armand Gamache series (which I discovered when reading this Ontario Court of Appeal case while doing some legal research).
So, it would be an understatement to say I have been eagerly anticipating the release of former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada Beverley McLachlin’s debut mystery novel set in Vancouver, British Columbia called Full Disclosure: A Novel. Last week I came home to discover the novel had arrived, much to my delight, and I immediately cracked the spine.
. . .Then my heart sank. I struggled with the first couple of chapters. I started to panic. I had already tweeted that I was going to write a review, what if I didn’t like it? I couldn’t possibly write a negative review of the former Chief Justice’s book, could I?
I tried to figure out what it was that wasn’t sitting right with me. It wasn’t the characters or the setting or even the subject matter. Sure, there were a few descriptive sentences that had one too many adjectives, but that is common in this genre. Then it clicked. I was reading it with Chief Justice McLachlin’s voice in my head. When there was talk of “saucy haircuts”, or during a bedroom scene with “lovemaking”, or when a character swore, I was hearing it as if the Chief Justice was reading it from the middle of the dais of the Supreme Court of Canada. This created such an uncomfortable dissonance for me. Once I figured this out, I realized I had to forget who the author was (or more explicitly the role she used to fill), and just read the book. And thank goodness I did, it really is a good mystery novel.
The novel follows criminal defence lawyer Jilly Truitt as she defends a man accused of murdering his socialite wife. (One online legal magazine suggested that the protagonist was based on Marie Henein - as if there is only one competent strong intelligent female defence lawyer in Canada who also happens to wear lipstick and heels - insert eye roll here. See the Women Leading in Law series where I interview more than one awesome female criminal defence lawyer based in Vancouver.) Ms. Truitt has, like any good mystery novel main character, a troubled past with complicated and flawed relationships, but she continues to see the “good” in people.
The story unfolds like a true “whodunnit” with multiple possible suspects, interrelated sub-plots and the required twists and turns (some rather predictable, some not as obvious). The writing style is reflective of the genre, but also with evidence of Ms. McLachlin’s vast vocabulary (I am humble enough to admit that I had to look up the meaning of a few words sprinkled throughout the novel: carapace? escritoire? And who knew the proper phrase was “scotch the rumours”?). As noted by one Amazon reviewer and by Caroline Mandell on Twitter, Ms. McLachlin herself makes an appearance in “Hitchcock fashion”:
Full Disclosure is a fun light read that allows you to play detective and put the pieces of the puzzle together, potentially before Ms. Truitt does, which is exactly what I want in a mystery novel. A momentary escape from reality, but where I can have an active role. I hope this is the first in a long series of books featuring Ms. Truitt that will accumulate on my bedside table, with their rightful place next to my books by P.D. James and Louise Penny.
Overall, I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys a quick “whodunnit” - just don’t read it as if the Chief Justice of Canada is reading it to you.
Erin C. Cowling is a freelance litigator, researcher & writer at Cowling Legal Freelance and President and Founder of FLEX LEGAL, a network of freelance lawyers.