Fresh Blood

Name: Olly Jarvis

Title of Book: Death by Dangerous

'Jarvis pitched me head-first in to his tale of cross and double cross.'

John Anderson has it all. He is one of the most successful prosecution barristers and is on the verge of becoming Q.C. He has the beautiful wife (although quite a loveless marriage) and two boys (who he doesn’t see as often as he’d like), but his career is everything. Then it all comes crashing down around him.

After a day in court Anderson awakes in hospital five days later without any recollection as to how he got there. Soon he is charged with death by dangerous driving. He is accused of driving his car in to another, killing a young girl besides the woman who was in the passenger seat of John’s car. But who was the woman in his car? He has never met her. Who was she and why was she in his car?

As his career that only days before was flourishing, is now in tatters, things go from bad to worse. Shunned by his former colleagues and those he thought he could trust, John finds help in the form of Tahir Hussain, a defence barrister he once ridiculed, but is now his only hope of getting to the truth. With Hussain’s assistant, Adey Tuur, the unlikely trio find themselves in a case that goes deeper than any of them could ever imagine.

I admit that I am not a great one for a courtroom drama and hold my hand up that I have never read a John Grisham. So I could be the worse one to review this book… or I could be the best one to review this book having no others to compare it to. Thankfully, it is the latter as I came to ‘Death by Dangerous’ with fresh eyes and no expectation. What I was served with was a brilliantly addictive story that was told with verve and drive.

Olly Jarvis did what many a famous author has advised in the past – write about what you know – and with twenty-four years as a barrister under his belt, Jarvis knows the ins and out of a courtroom like the back of his hand. Not only was this dramatic, but in a way educational, without Jarvis letting his reader get mired with too much legalise. I don’t know if it is true or just for the book, but I was shocked at the level of racism and derision shown towards Hussain who due to his ethnicity, had to scrape the bottom of the barrister barrel by defending known criminals.

Not only did Jarvis drive his story forward, but each character felt fully-formed, well-rounded. Nobody felt like a mere plot device. I loved DI Mark Taylor who is a salt of the earth policeman. A man who wants justice for those under his care, but at the same time he isn’t ready to see an innocent man sent down just because it all looks good down on paper. I would certainly like to see Taylor pop up again in a future book, as I would Hussain and Tuur who were a wonderful pair that demanded by attention.

I admit I had this in my huge TBR pile for a few months, but at the same time I love it when I take a book out and it delivers more than I could have wished for, or expected. ‘Death by Dangerous’ was quite an eye-opener for me. Right from the very first page I was intrigued and quickly, Jarvis had pitched me head-first in to his tale of cross and double cross. As a barrister, Jarvis delivers wonderful cross-examinations that only an old hand could produce via the printed word. I really was transported to The Royal Courts of Justice on The Strand when Anderson’s appeal was heard. It is inside these hallowed walls that Jarvis’ dramatic conclusion is played out. I am not sure how much Jarvis bent the system to fit his story, but for me it didn’t matter. I was completely spellbound and inside his story that drove me like a car out of control, to the final page within a day of picking this book up. I certainly won’t be leaving it so long to pick up Jarvis’ next book!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) ‘Death by Dangerous’ is the story of successful prosecution barrister, John Anderson and his spectacular fall from grace following a fatal car crash. What was the original germ of an idea that started you on the path to writing this book?
Having spent 24 years working as a criminal defence barrister and defending many death by dangerous cases, it always strikes me how the defendants are often ‘normal’, otherwise law-abiding citizens. Facing up to the fatal consequences of their driving and the trauma of a trial often destroys them, even if they are acquitted. Just because of a moment of inattention, of which we are all guilty. It’s times like these when you find out who your friends are. I had to write about the devastating effects on everyone involved. I wanted to show readers that there is nowhere more dynamic and theatrical than an English courtroom. If you look at the UK best-seller lists for this genre, they are totally dominated by American authors. There seems to have been a perception in the past that the US legal system lends itself to fast-paced thrillers in a way the English system with its wigs, gowns and ancient laws can’t. I hope that ‘Death by Dangerous’ contributes to a fresh take on British legal fiction.
2) There are many fascinating facts about our courts and the law within the UK. Are you/ have you been involved in this world? If not, did you need to do a lot of research about the intricacies of the law to get them right before embarking on your novel?
The courtroom is my home. I’ve had years of rules and regulations drilled into me so I could pass on the research. It was important to me that the law in ‘Death by Dangerous’ was accurate and that the scenes were authentic. At the same time, the law is only the framework for the story. The reader will experience criminal law in practice but only because it is essential to the plot. The real magic of a criminal trial comes from the way the various parties interact. It’s all about conflicts, rivalry and survival.
3) Although he is your main protagonist, John Anderson starts out as quite an unattractive, driven man who, despite having a family, lives for his work. Is it normal in this world for someone to be all consumed by the demands of justice?
Yes, whether a quest for justice, ambition or a will to win, many criminal barristers are very driven. You need a particular mindset, not only to work until one o’clock in the morning, but to withstand the stress and pressures of relentless trials. Life in the courtroom can be an ugly business. Dealing with violent criminals and their families, victims, other lawyers and grumpy judges on a daily basis is draining and takes its tolI. Rumpole’s world of quaffing champagne in wine bars is a distant memory! I wanted to create characters in ‘Death by Dangerous’ who epitomise the strains felt by those involved in, or touched by, the criminal justice system.
4) DI Taylor is the face of the police and John Anderson’s arresting officer, even though he is a man of some integrity. Again, did you have inside knowledge of how the police would deal with a charge of ‘death by dangerous’?
Absolutely. This is a specialist area. It’s quite extraordinary how highly trained police officers known as ‘collision investigators’, attend the scene of fatal car accidents and can piece together what happened and who was at fault. They can be very tricky to cross-examine, as can be seen in the book. It’s a defence barrister’s job to know the police procedures for investigation, arrest, interview and charge backwards. A tiny error or omission in the process can sometimes make the difference between guilt or innocence.
5) Are you currently writing your next book? Will it involve some of the characters from ‘Death by Dangerous’, (Tahir Hussain and Adey Tuur in particular), or will you move on to new ground?
My next novel is also set in Manchester but with entirely new characters. The title, ‘Cut-throat Defence’ is a legal term for a trial where there are several defendants who blame each other for the commission of the crime. This creates a situation where the main protagonist, Jack Kowalski, a newly-qualified barrister with a fear of the courtroom has to fend off attacks not just from the prosecution, but other defence advocates. The twists and turns of the trial change his life forever.
6) Are you a fan of crime fiction? If so, what are the top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you and you would wish to have on a desert island?
I don’t have as much time as I would like to read books – only briefs. I grew up with the late John Mortimer’s Rumpole of the Bailey stories. His understanding of what made people tick is typical of great writers and advocates. John Grisham’s, The Firm had a profound effect on me. I read it at the very start of my career. Not only did the novel make me dream of one day writing legal thrillers, it helped me fully appreciate that as a criminal lawyer, integrity is everything. Ian Rankin’s first novel, Knots and Crosses also has a special place for me, introducing a perfectly flawed protagonist - Rebus. Great crime fiction characters often have faults. It’s what brings them to life.