In The Spotlight: William Deverell’s Trial of Passion

Hello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. As I mentioned in a recent post, one of the most challenging sorts of cases to investigate is the ‘he said/she said’ case. For one thing, the only two people who really know what happened may be the two parties to the case. For another, either (or both) may have reasons for not telling everything, or for outright lying. In those situations, it can be very difficult to get to the truth. And that can add tension and suspense to a crime novel. Let’s look at one such example today, and turn the spotlight on William Deverell’s Trial of Passion, the first of his Arthur Beauchamp series.

Beauchamp (pronounced BEE-cham) is a Vancouver attorney who’s recently retired to what he hopes is the peace and quiet of Garibaldi Island. He’s looking forward to getting away from the stress of a high-profile law firm, and the failure of his marriage. He’s no sooner installed in his new home when his former colleagues ask for his help. Professor Jonathan O’Donnell, acting dean of law at the University of British Columbia, has been charged with rape. His accuser is a law student, Kimberley Martin. He’s been dissatisfied with his current lawyer (a colleague of Beauchamp’s), and insists that Beauchamp take over his case. At first, Beauchamp refuses. He’s finally persuaded, though, and travels back to Vancouver.

Both parties to the case agree on some things about the night in question. The Law Students’ Association (of which Martin is a member) held a dance to which several faculty members (including O’Donnell) were invited. After the dance, a group of people (including both parties) went on to another party, and then back to O’Donnell’s house. Both sides also admit that a lot of alcohol was consumed, and not just by the two people involved in the case.

After that, the stories diverge. Martin claims that she was raped, and there is evidence that she could be telling the truth. Certainly she ran out of O’Donnell’s house to the house next door, wearing nothing but a necktie, and with lipstick smeared on her, saying that she was raped. O’Donnell claims that he did not commit rape. After some time and a few half-truths, he admits that he and Martin had sex, but that it was completely consensual. And they tell different stories about who pursued whom in the days and weeks before the party. It’s the work of Beauchamp to defend O’Donnell, while Patricia Blueman serves as the prosecuting attorney. The case will be tried in Walter Sprogue’s courtroom.

In the meantime, Beauchamp has other problems. Life on Garibaldi Island takes getting used to, and learning to work with the other people on the island takes time. And there’s the matter of his soon-to-be ex-wife, Annabelle. The marriage is over, and both of them know it. But that doesn’t mean there’s no sadness about it.

Still, Beauchamp does his best to focus on the case. He’s a very skilled lawyer, but his opponent is no slouch herself. For both of them, it’ll be a matter of finding out as much as they can about each party’s history, character, and so on, and getting to the real truth about what happened. In the end, they do, but it’s not a simple case. Is Martin a rape victim, or a very accomplished actress? Is O’Donnell a rapist, or is he telling the truth in saying that Martin pursued him?

And getting to the truth is an important element in this novel. This is, in that sense, a legal mystery, so readers follow along as Beauchamp and his team talk to witnesses and potential witnesses, decide what their strategy will be, and so on. And there are plenty of courtroom scenes. Readers who like the drama of the courtroom will appreciate that.

And yet, the novel is not a fast-paced thriller. There are also plenty of scenes on Garibaldi Island, where Beauchamp learns to fit in with the other residents, gets used to his new home, and so on. There are several eccentric characters who make their home there, and Beauchamp gradually gets to know them and learn from some of their wisdom.

Much of the story is told from Beauchamp’s point of view (first person, present tense), so we learn quite a bit about his character. He’s a recovering alcoholic (nine years sober) who’s trying to start life over again. He certainly makes his share of mistakes (including in the courtroom), but he’s also a sharp strategist who’s earned his reputation. He’s honest with himself about his own failures, but readers who are tired of dysfunctional characters who wallow in sorrow will be pleased to know that he is not one of them. He’s got a certain wit, and a love of language. Here’s a bit of the scene as he’s first heading to Garibaldi:

‘Standing at the aft of the gender-confused vessel known as the Queen of Prince George, I can see forested clumps of land approaching. These comprise the islands beyond the great inland waterway of the Strait of Georgia, the cold salt moat behind which I shall find refuge from the city’s grasping fingers.’

He’s also quick-thinking, as a successful trial lawyer has to be.

Parts of the story are told through trial transcripts and case notes from sessions that O’Donnell and Martin have with their psychotherapists. Those notes reveal quite a lot about both characters. And we learn that both are much more complicated than it seems on the surface.

Trial of Passion is a ‘he said/she said’ story that plays out in a Vancouver courtroom, and features characters who are much more complex than they appear to be. It’s a legal mystery that allows readers ‘behind the scenes’ as a case is prepared and tried, and it introduces a shrewd attorney who has his own way of going about the job. But what’s your view? Have you read Trial of Passion? If you have, what elements do you see in it?


Coming Up On In The Spotlight


Monday, 7 August/Tuesday, 8 August – Murder in the Marais – Cara Black

Monday, 14 August/Tuesday, 15 August – The Cemetery of Swallows – Jean-Denis Bruet-Ferreol

Monday, 21 August/Tuesday, 22 August – Corridors of Death – Ruth Dudley Edwards


Filed under Trial of Passion

26 responses to “In The Spotlight: William Deverell’s Trial of Passion

  1. If you don’t start making these spotlights so appealing I’m going to have to boycott them!
    I love the sound of this, the subject matter right at the heart of he said/she said is incredibly appealing and I’m taken with the trial aspect and the information coming through a few different forms – in fact it appeals so much I’ve ordered a copy!! Thank you 😉

    • Turnabout and all that, Cleo… 😉 – In all seriousness, I do hope you’ll enjoy the novel. The he said/she said aspect is really interesting, and I liked the trial scenes, too. I’m not an attorney, so I felt I learned a bit. And the setting was nicely done as well. I’ll be keen to know what you think of it!

  2. Haven’t read it, Margot, but it does sound good. May well follow Cleo’s example!

    • It is a really interesting case of he said/she said, Christine. And I think you’d find the use of language in the novel really interesting, too. If you do read it, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

  3. Another one that sounds appealing – I always enjoy a well written courtroom book and the plot is intriguing. But I’m being strong – you can’t break my willpower and Tuppence is asleep… 😉

    • 😆 Well, I’d still check her email and credit card statements, FictionFan! In all seriousness, I completely understand your determination not to add to the TBR. Mine is, well, we won’t mention it, shall we? If you ever do make room for this one, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

  4. I am always fascinated in stories that offer a shall we say ‘binary’ approach to plotting, with only one of two possible solutions seemingly offered. The best of course offer an unexpected third way …

    • You make an interesting point, Sergio. When it seems that there are only two possibilities, it adds richness when there’s another. What I like about this novel is that it’s quite realistic. Deverell doesn’t ask us to believe a fantastical solution. I can’t say more without spoiling the novel…

  5. Margot: As you well know I love Arthur Beauchamp. His creator, William Deverell, has developed a wonderful character in Beauchamp.

    I enjoy how much humour Deverell creates especially playing off the occasional pomposity manifested by Beauchamp.

    The author is as witty as his character. An example is Deverell’s response to a question on how autobiographical is Beauchamp:

    “I am now forced to insist with as much vehemence as I can muster that I am not an impotent alcoholic cuckold.”

    Lastly I freely admit a legal bias as both myself and Deverell are graduates of the University of Saskatchewan College of Law.

    • I didn’t know you and Deverell had gone to the same law school, Bill. Interesting! I know what you mean about Deverall’s wit (and thanks for sharing that great quote). It’s woven nicely into the story, but doesn’t ever take away from the seriousness of the case at hand or of other things that happen. He does that quite well, in my opinion. And, yes, Beauchamp can be pompous, but he is very much a human being, and I like that about him.

  6. Sounds like a fascinating story. I like that bits about the protagonist adjusting to the island is included to get a look at his home life. Definitely one to add to my TBR list. Thanks for the introduction, Margot.

    • I think you’d like those scenes of Beauchamp getting used to Garibaldi Island, Mason. There are some eccentric characters there, but Deverell doesn’t make any of them so silly that they don’t seem real. If you do get to read this one, I hope you’ll like it.

  7. Col

    Another interesting one Margot. I probably won’t follow up with it, but you’ve reminded me it’s been a while since I read something with a legal twist.

  8. Reblogged this on Author Don Massenzio and commented:
    William Deverell’s book, Trial of Passion is in the spotlight on the Confessions of a Mystery Novelist blog

  9. Oh,…I will have to order a copy to know whether Martin is an accomplished actress or a victim. I loved the way you build suspension in this article which will leave the readers with no option but order a copy.

    Love from India

  10. Definitely interested in this, Margot. I remember Bill’s reviews and I checked more of them out. I will look out for his books at the Book Sale in Sept.

    • I think it’s a well-written story, Tracy. And it certainly depicts the tangled web of a he said/she said case. And Arthur Beauchamp is a well-drawn character, in my opinion.

  11. You should be on commission Margot! Count me as another one ready to order this. With you and Bill both on the case, how can I resist? Story and setting both sound very intriguing.

    • Resistance is futile, Moira. In all seriousness, I think Deverell does an excellent evoking the setting, both of the island and of Vancouver. And the the plot is interesting, too (at least in my opinion). If you do get to this one, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

  12. Kent Morgan

    If I remember correctly, the editor of Deadly Pleasures magazine named it as the best book of the 1990s. it headed my top ten list the year I read it. I Ilked a couple of other Beauchamp books that followed, but as so often happens with series, the later ones can get shoved aside for new authors you want to try.

    • Well, that’s true, Kent. It’s interesting, isn’t it, how that happens, even when one really enjoys a series. I’ve done it, too. It’s good to hear you enjoyed this one as much as you did. And thanks for the bit about Deadly Pleasures.

  13. Pingback: Weekly Wrap Up (August 13) – Cleopatra Loves Books

  14. Just ordered the book after reading this. Brilliant writing! 😊

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