Review: Degrees of guilt by Patrick marrinan
(Robert Hale £18.99)
Belfast-born Patrick Marrinan, who's in his mid-50s, is a high-profile barrister who worked on major terrorist trials in the North before settling in Dublin, where he has continued his distinguished legal career, becoming a Senior Counsel in 2000.
His experience as an advocate lends considerable substance to his second novel (the first, Scapegoat, was published last year), in which, on the brink of retirement, eminent SC Blair Armstrong reluctantly takes on the cause of Russian immigrant Yuri, who's accused of stabbing his mother to death in their Sandymount apartment.
To the gardai it seems an open-and-shut case, but Armstrong and his solicitor colleague Dermot Molloy opt for a defence of somnambulism, arguing that, because of sleepwalking, their client didn't know what he was doing and had no memory of what he had done.
The most engrossing part of the novel concerns garda procedures, legal debate and courtroom battles, which are persuasively depicted despite an often deadening reliance on cliched prose, but the author also throws into the mix an alluring and enigmatic young Russian interpreter, Marina, with whom the widowed Armstrong becomes romantically and sexually involved.
It's this that proves to be the book's undoing. Improbable from the outset, its ramifications become farcical in the concluding chapters, where Armstrong suddenly becomes another person than the upright, conscientious, troubled man with whom we'd been acquainted for the previous 150 pages. And an abrupt lurch into luridly downbeat melodrama in the closing pages makes a nonsense of all that had gone before, leaving the reader feeling cheated by factual red herrings and psychological -- and, indeed, logical -- inconsistencies.
To sum up, Marrinan seems entirely unconvinced by the case that he has so painstakingly presented to the reader, who ends up asking awkward questions of the plot that should have occurred both to the gardai and to Armstrong, and to which the author has no satisfactory answer. Marrinan the barrister would have demanded a little more rigour.