This debut novel mixes a murder investigation mixed with courtroom drama.

Being a novelist is just the latest chapter in the life of Gary Bell QC. Aged 18 he was convicted of fraud and was homeless for two years. Then he went to study at Bristol University as a mature student before becoming a barrister and, later, a QC. Along the way he’s written his autobiography (Animal QC: My Preposterous Life) and presented The Legalizer on BBC1.

Beyond Reasonable Doubt is his debut novel, co-written with professional author Scott Kershaw.

The story
It starts with a body. A young girl of Middle Eastern origin is found dead on a disused railway in Nottinghamshire. With the scene set, it moves to the legal chambers of Elliot Rook QC in Chancery Lane six months later. Rook is in the middle of a fraud trial and wading his way through tons of paperwork. Having been told he should appoint a junior he unexpectedly chooses a young lawyer called Zara Barnes, who’s already been rejected for a job by his colleagues. On the surface they are an unlikely pair: he, Eton-educated and successful; she, a mixed-race girl from Nottingham with a law degree from Hull. But Rook has a deeply-hidden past and they are not as ill-matched as first appears.

Some weeks later Rook takes a case to defend a thug from Nottingham who has been charged with the murder of the unidentified girl found on the railway tracks. It turns out that Rook originally came from the area and the defendant, Billy Barber, is insisting on Rook representing him.

Building a defence
From this point the story turns part-legal and part-detective. The case against Barber seems pretty open-and-shut, not least because he has no alibi. Rook and Zara are slowly drawn into investigating what happened, and of course there are trips back to Rook’s old stamping ground. Slowly but surely Rook begins to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Both the murder and court case unfold alongside each other and there are several twists and turns in the plot. The final twist, when the murderer is revealed, is unexpected. All in all, it’s an interesting and absorbing story, which I enjoyed and would definitely award 4-Stars.

As good as Strike?
This book is recommended for fans of Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike series, but I don’t think it quite measures up to those. In my view the writing lets it down, because despite a good plot there’s not much excitement or tension on the page. It fell short of being the page-turner I’d hoped for and. unlike the Cormoran Strike series, I couldn’t make myself care very much about the protagonists.

The Acknowledgements in the back of this book make it clear there are more Elliot Rook novels in the pipeline and I’m sure I’ll read them, although I’ll be wishing for the characters to be a bit more rounded and a bit more adrenaline in the plot. Maybe that will come with time.
Review by: Cornish Eskimo