Tag Archives: crime fiction

Kate Sutherland

Summer Reading: Legal Fiction

TopTenList

I made a rash promise earlier this week during the Dean’s Welcome Webcast to post a top ten list of legal fiction by way of a bit of suggested summer reading. I’m not exactly going to make good on that promise here as I’m highly resistant to the “top ten” part of the proposition. To truly come up with a top ten, I’d have to have an exhaustive knowledge of the field and, while I read a lot, I certainly haven’t read everything. Plenty of worthy books are bound to be left off my list simply because I haven’t yet read them. Further, I’m mindful that this is an inherently subjective exercise. The books I choose to highlight are those that appeal to my particular literary tastes and legal interests, not necessarily the best books by any objective criteria. So consider this list not a top ten, but simply a preliminary reading list of legal fiction that I found entertaining, insightful, or challenging (in the best cases, all three). Here they are, in order of publication, with (I hope) enough detail to pique your interest without giving too much away:

Bleak House (1853) by Charles Dickens: More than a century and a half after its initial publication, this novel centering on the seemingly interminable case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce is still distressingly relevant on issues related to legal ethics, legal obfuscation, and justice delayed as justice denied. It also contains some of the most memorable and entertaining lawyer characters in literature including the sinister Mr. Tulkinghorn, the odious Mr. Vholes, and (possibly my favourite) young Mr. Guppy who is utterly enamoured with the language of the law. It’s nearly a thousand pages long, but when I reached the end, I wished there was more of it. (Incidentally, if you like to listen rather than read, there’s a wonderful audio version available narrated by Robert Whitfield.)

The Trial (1925) by Franz Kafka: Kafka stands alongside Shakespeare, Dickens, and Orwell as one of the authors most frequently referenced in legal decisions. And when judges or lawyers refer to proceedings or outcomes as Kafkaesque, they are likely thinking of The Trial, a novel in which the main character, Josef K., finds himself caught up in the nightmare of a trial on charges which are never specified via processes that he doesn’t understand.

Strong Poison (1930) by Dorothy Sayers: This is the installment in Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey series in which Harriet Vane, one of my favourite characters in crime fiction, is introduced. Bohemian author Vane is on trial for the murder of her former lover, and Wimsey must solve the mystery of who killed him in order to prove her innocent and save her from the gallows.

Tragedy at Law (1942) by Cyril Hare: Hare wrote a series of mystery novels set in the legal world based on his own experiences as an English barrister and judge. In this one, regarded by many as his best, High Court judge Mr. Justice Barber first receives threatening letters, then is subjected to an attempt on his life while moving from town to town to preside over cases in the southern English circuit. Barrister and amateur detective Francis Pettigrew sets out to discover who wants Barber dead before that person succeeds in the endeavour.

Tales of Manhattan (1967) by Louis Auchincloss: Auchincloss was an extraordinarily prolific writer as well as a practicing lawyer for seven decades, beginning in the 1940s until his death in 2010. In his fiction he depicted the world of New York high society and the Wall Street lawyers and bankers who served its interests. Gore Vidal wrote of him: “Of all our novelists, Auchincloss is the only one who tells us how our rulers behave in their banks and their boardrooms, their law offices and their clubs.” Tales of Manhattan includes a suite of stories which depicts a fictional New York law firm from multiple perspectives. These stories are very much of their time and place and thereby illuminate a particular historical moment in U.S. society and legal practice. But they also explore, as do many of Auchincloss’s works, tensions between legal ambition and creative aspirations in a way that may resonate for the would-be lawyer-writers among you.

The Legal Fiction of Lowell B. Komie (2005): This book unites Komie’s many law-themed stories that were originally dispersed throughout earlier collections published between 1983 and 1999. Like Auchincloss, Komie is at once an acclaimed fiction writer and a practicing attorney but his territory is Chicago and the legal world that he depicts in these stories is that of the 1970s and 80s. Consequently, the cast of law students, lawyers, and judges that he depicts is much more diverse. Legal practice has changed considerably in the intervening years, but many of the personal and professional conflicts that Komie’s characters face will still seem familiar to today’s lawyers and law students.

Alias Grace (1996) by Margaret Atwood: This Giller prize winner is my favourite of Margaret Atwood’s books. It’s a historical novel that is based on a notorious 19th century Canadian case in which a maid was convicted of the brutal murders of her employer and his housekeeper. Atwood’s rendition of the story takes the reader into the mind of the convicted murderer, now serving out a life sentence and claiming to have no memory of the crime. It also explores the question of her innocence or guilt through the eyes of a fictional doctor who is researching her case.

George & Rue (2005) by George Elliot Clarke: This novel is based on the story of two African Canadian brothers who were convicted of and executed for the murder of a taxi driver in the course of a robbery in New Brunswick in 1949. Clarke became intrigued by the story upon learning that he was related to the brothers and set out to imagine, through innovative use of the historical record, what led up to the commission of this crime.

The Round House (2012) by Louise Erdrich: Erdrich’s National Book Award winning novel tells the story of 13-year-old Joe’s quest for justice in the aftermath of an assault on his mother on their Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota. The richness of the novel is nicely summed up in its National Book Award citation: “Erdrich has created an intricately layered novel that not only untangles our nation’s history of moral and judicial failure, but also offers a portrait of a community sustained by its traditions, values, faith, and stories.”

NW (2012) by Zadie Smith: In this novel, Smith paints a portrait of contemporary London through the eyes of a group of characters linked by the shared history of growing up in a housing estate in the city’s northwest. One of the key characters is barrister Natalie Blake who confronts sexism and racism in the legal profession, and struggles with the gulf between the world in which she grew up and the one she inhabits now to which law has, in part, provided a conduit. The picture that emerges of London, of the legal profession, and of Natalie is complex and challenging.

I could very easily add twenty more books to this list, but I said ten so I’ll stop there. But I also said preliminary, so I invite you to add your own favourites in the comments below, and also any reflections you may have on the books I’ve highlighted here. I would be very happy to come away with some new titles to add to my summer reading!

Kate Sutherland

Roundup of News & Reviews, September 5-11, 2011

Below is a selection of the news stories and book reviews related to law and the arts that caught my attention last week.

A U.S. district court has allowed a lawsuit brought against Hungary and its museums by the heirs of art collector Baron Mor Lipot Herzog to proceed. Herzog’s heirs brought the suit after unsuccessfully petitioning the Hungarian government for the return of art, collectively valued at more than $100 million, “most of which has been hanging in Hungarian museums, where it was left for safekeeping during World War II or placed after being stolen by the Nazis and later returned to Hungary” (NYT). Hungary argued that it was entitled to immunity under the United States Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, but the court was not convinced. The lawsuit seeks the “the return of more than 40 artworks including paintings, sculptures and other works by El Greco, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Zubarán, van Dyck, Velázquez and Monet,” and “an accounting of all art from the Herzog family in its possession” (NYT). (Sources: New York Times, Clancco, Reuters, Hungary on Trial)

A California court has denied Madonna’s bid to have a trademark case against her over her Material Girl clothing line thrown out. Retailer LA Triumph claims it has been using the name for a clothing line since 1997 and that it owns the trademark. Madonna argues that her use dates back farther to her 1985 hit song. But the court concluded that Madonna’s argument was an insufficient basis for the summary judgment that she sought: “This Court and other courts have recognized that the singing of a song does not create a trademark.” Thus the case will continue on to trial. (Sources: Hollywood Reporter, BBC)

A Paris court has found that television newsreader Patrick Poivre d’Arvor breached the privacy of a former lover through his undisguised portrait of her in a 2009 novel Fragments of a Lost Woman. In addition to many details drawn from her life, the book included virtual word-for-word copies of eleven letters that she had written to him. Poivre d’Arvor argued that the book was a work of fiction based on his “numerous female conquests,” but the court was not persuaded, concluding: “The literary procedures used do not allow the reader to differentiate the characters from reality, such that the work cannot be qualified as fictional.” The court imposed a fine and a ban on reprinting of the novel. (Source: Telegraph)

Matthew Jones, author of the screenplay for Boot Tracks and the novel upon which it was based, is suing the director and producers of the film. He claims that they made unauthorized changes to the script which constitute a breach of an option agreement. His complaint reads in part: “Defendant Jacobson and Rattner promised that the screenplay would not be changed, that they understood the unique artistic integrity of the screenplay and that if changes did have to be made in order to secure financing that plaintiff would be the only one allowed to make said changes, which would be consistent with the authenticity of the novel.” In addition to breach of contract, Jones alleges copyright infringement and fraud. He is seeking damages and an injunction to prevent release of the film. (Source: Courthouse News, Hat tip: @Copycense)

Prompted by the impending release of an eagerly anticipated new film adaptation of John Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy with Gary Oldman playing the role of George Smiley, Robert McCrum has compiled a list of the best British spy novels. Click here to see his list and assess his choices. Has he left out any must-reads?

In an interview with the Guardian, A.D. Miller discusses his Booker-shortlisted novel Snowdrops which features as its narrator “a lonely, drifting, 30something expat lawyer, living in Moscow during the few-questions-asked oil boom.” Definitely one that I’m keen to read.

German lawyer and author Ferdinand von Schirach has garnered high praise for short stories based on his criminal defense work. But in his latest work of fiction, he has turned to the past, tackling his fraught family history. The soon to be published novel, Der Fall Collini, includes a character based on his grandfather who was leader of the Hitler Youth and ultimately convicted of crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg trials. The Guardian quotes from an interview that von Schirach did with Focus magazine: “If you grow up with a name like mine, by the time you are 15 or 16 at the latest, you have to ask yourself some basic questions and come up with some very basic answers that you can live with. It’s your responsibility.” His grappling with these questions through the medium of fiction will doubtless make for though-provoking reading. I don’t know when an English translation is due to be published, but I will certainly be watching for it.

Reviewer Joanna Hines is pleased to have discovered in Death in August, the first installment in a mystery series by Marco Vichi set in 1960s Florence, a new detective (Inspector Bordelli) “whose company will be an enduring pleasure.” She pronounces the book: “A real find for anyone who likes their crime novels atmospheric, discursive, humorous and thought-provoking.” Sounds very promising. (The Guardian)

Kate Sutherland

Roundup of News & Reviews, June 1-12, 2011

Below are links to some of the news stories and book reviews related to law and the arts that have caught my attention so far this month.

A group of origami artists is suing Sarah Morris claiming that her series of paintings based on origami crease patterns constitute copyright infringement. The suit was launched in U.S. federal court in April, but it received fresh attention this week with an article in the Guardian and posts on a number of IP and art law blogs (The 1709 Blog, Art and Artifice). The Guardian reports that the plaintiffs allege “Morris copied their origami crease patterns, changed the colour scheme and then sold and exhibited the works without obtaining permission and crediting them,” and that she has thereby “‘created confusion’ over the authorship of their designs and damaged their professional reputations.” Morris is expected to base her defense on fair use. Her lawyer is reported to have told the Art Newspaper: “It’s hard to imagine a clearer use of transformative fair use.” Click here to see excerpts from the complaint including several exhibits that set the plaintiffs’ crease patterns alongside Morris’s paintings (as in the illustration above).

Two years ago, the unveiling of a previously unknown collection of paintings, drawings, letters, and ephemera purported to be the work of Frida Kahlo was met with charges that “all of the documents and works in [the collection] are fakes.” Now, the L.A. Times reports that in a decision rendered last year but only reported last week, “a Mexican court has ruled that opponents have failed to prove their claim that the collection is bogus.” This ruling does not establish the authenticity of the collection, but it paved the way for its owners to “[file] ownership papers or the material […] with Mexico’s Public Registry of Copyrights” and to begin to “[consider] exhibition options.”

A California federal judge has decided in favour of photographer Glen E. Friedman in his copyright suit against Thierry Guetta (“Mr. Brainwash”). Guetta argued that his work based on Friedman’s iconic photo of rap group Run DMC did not constitute infringement because Friedman’s photograph was not sufficiently original to merit copyright protection or, alternatively, that he had altered it sufficiently for his work to be considered fair use. The judge rejected both arguments and granted Friedman’s motion for summary judgment. Some commentators have expressed concern that, hot on the heels of the Richard Prince decision, this outcome is a further blow to appropriation art. (Hollywood Reporter, Media Bistro, LA Weekly)

The New York Times reports that last week a U.S. federal appeals court denied the claim of an innocent buyer of a stolen Pissarro print that she ought not to have to forfeit the work. She purchased it twenty-five years ago from a San Antonio art gallery and did not learn until she tried to sell it through Sotheby’s in 2003 that it had been reported stolen thirty years previously from a museum in Aix-les-Bains, France. The U.S. government promptly “seized the print as contraband.” In the wake of the court’s upholding of that action paired with its determination that the buyer could not recover her legal fees, she ruefully observes that her “$100,000 asset [has] turned into a $100,000 liability.”

In the Observer, Rory Mulholland notes the proliferation of protest art on the walls of the rebel-held cities of Libya. He finds the multitude of caricatures of Muammar Gaddafi, “whose many eccentricities make him a perfect target for satire,” to be “the most striking manifestation of the new-found freedom of expression” in those regions. Click here to see a slide show of some of the images that Mulholland captured on film.

Joan Jett and Cherie Currie have filed suit in a New York court in an attempt to stop the release of a tribute album featuring contemporary cover versions of the songs of their 1970s band The Runaways. In the Hollywood Reporter, Eriq Gardner sums up the basis for the suit as follows: “Typically, when cover songs are recorded, mechanical license royalty rates apply. No permission is required. However, in this unusual situation, Jett and Currie are claiming that the project is a violation of their likenesses, and that the record label is using their famous names to market the album.”

Christophe Maillet, owner of a Doors-themed Paris Bar called The Lezard King, has received a letter from the band’s lawyer threatening legal action if he doesn’t change the name of the bar and remove all images of the band from the premises within the next three months. The letter warns: “”The Doors do not want to be seen as having approved of your establishment and also the consumption of alcohol.” Maillet, a life-long Doors fan who personally collected the memorabilia over the past twenty-five years that constitutes the bar’s decor, “doesn’t know what could happen if the legal action goes ahead” but fears that the “worst-case scenario is that they could close the bar.” (Associated Press)

The family of Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda maintains that he died of cancer in 1973 at the age of 69. But following allegations that he was, in fact, poisoned at the behest of General Pinochet, a Chilean judge has ordered an investigation into his death. (BBC, NPR)

As part of its coverage of the Hay festival, the Telegraph has published a wonderful series of articles in which writers pay tribute to their “heroes of free speech.” Click on the following writers’ names to learn about theirs: Javier Cercas, Kishwar Desai, Héctor Abad Faciolince, Helena Kennedy, Youssef Rakha, and Elif Shafak.

Katherine A. Power has high praise for Mary Doria Russell’s historical western, Doc: “This extraordinary novel, whose central figure is John Henry ‘Doc’ Holliday, is both a work of reclamation of the man from his legend as a coldblooded killer and an inspired evocation of a mythic quintessence.” (Salon)

In the Daily Beast, David Goodwillie interviews police detective Edward Conlon about his novel Red on Red. Given Conlon’s line of work and the critical acclaim of his memoir, Blue Blood, it is perhaps unsurprising that his novel is garnering praise for its authentic portrayal of detective work and of police partnerships. “Conlon’s colorful world exists under a gray and pressing sky of authenticity that not even the most research-addicted crime novelists could recreate,” Goodwillie writes. He continues: “At the same time, Red on Red offers Conlon his first opportunity to move past the factual restrictions of non-fiction, and he doesn’t disappoint.” It sounds like it’s well worth a look.

“Where better to set a noir police procedural than in streets awash in uncollected trash, against a backdrop of smoke rising from Vesuvius?” asks Hallie Ephron. She concludes that with These Dark Things, the first installment in a series featuring Captain Natalia Monte of the Naples Carabinieri, Jan Meret Weiss lays claim to that city as decisively as Donna Leon has to Venice. I’ve just finished reading These Dark Things myself and can attest that Natalia Monte is a most intriguing character and that Naples is very vividly evoked⎯a promising start to a new series. (Boston Globe)

Kate Sutherland

International Crime Fiction: Shamini Flint’s Inspector Singh Series

“International crime fiction” can be an unhelpful label, given how often people use it simply to denote the crime fiction of any country other than their own, so as to indicate border crossing by readers rather than sleuths. But it is an apt one for Shamini Flint’s series featuring Inspector Singh whose investigations cut a wide swath across Southeast Asia. Inspector Singh is a detective in the Singapore police force, but it seems that his superiors are keen to take advantage of any opportunity to send him on distant, unpalatable assignments. In the first installment of the series, he is sent to Kuala Lumpur to ensure that a Singaporean woman accused of murder is fairly treated by the Malaysian police. In the second, he finds himself on secondment in Bali to assist with anti-terrorism efforts in the wake of a bomb exploding, and in the fourth he is sent to Cambodia as an observer to the international war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh. (In the third, he stays home in Singapore, but even there it seems that there’s an international dimension given that the murder at the centre of the plot occurs at an international law firm.)

The first book in the series, Inspector Singh Investigates: A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder, amply illustrates the richness that such cross-cultural and individually diverse settings can afford. In it, the shared colonial histories of Singapore and Malaysia are highlighted, and current tensions between the countries⎯political, cultural, and religious⎯are mirrored in the interaction between the Singaporean Sikh Inspector Singh, and his Malaysian Moslem counterpart Inspector Mohammad, and also in the details of the case that they must cooperate to solve: the murder of a wealthy Malaysian businessman of which his estranged Singaporean wife, a former model who grew up in poverty, stands accused.

The author of the series, Shamini Flint, is a former lawyer who practiced for ten years with an international firm in Singapore and Malaysia before opting to write full time, and she makes excellent use of her legal knowledge in this book. The inner workings of the Malaysian criminal justice system are explored, as are Malaysia’s plural legal regimes, the latter providing a crucial plot point when the murdered man suddenly converted to Islam in order to have a bitter custody battle transferred to Syariah court in the hope of thwarting his wife’s seemingly imminent victory in the secular courts.

These facets effectively combine to evoke the strong sense of place that distinguishes much of the best crime fiction, and make for extremely interesting reading. The most appealing feature of the book, though, is Inspector Singh himself. One of the back cover blurbs draws a parallel between him and Precious Ramotswe of Alexander McCall Smith’s Ladies Detective Agency series. I can see why the publishers would stress such a comparison given the enormous popularity of that series. But the comparison is all wrong. Inspector Singh has much more in common with his police procedural brethren such as Martin Beck and Kurt Wallander (methodical, glum, portly and wheezing, at odds with his wife), John Rebus (at odds with his superiors), or even, if we can step into the realm of television for a moment, Lieutenant Columbo (rumpled and underestimated). In her characterization of Inspector Singh, Flint strikes the perfect balance: sufficient familiarity to meet genre expectations, and sufficient novelty to make it feel altogether fresh.

I have only read the first book so far and I recommend it enthusiastically. I fully expect that, on further investigation (ha ha), Inspector Singh will join my pantheon of favourite fictional sleuths. It appears that, as yet, the first is the only one in the series that has been published in Canada, but I liked it so well that I’ve already ordered the UK editions of the rest, and I eagerly anticipate their arrival.

Kate Sutherland

Weekly Roundup of News & Reviews, April 11-17, 2011

Photo by Grey Villet, from the documentary film The Loving Story

Below are links to some of the news stories and book reviews related to law and the arts that caught my attention last week, with a smattering of extras from the two weeks prior for which alas, due to the usual end of term madness, I didn’t manage to put together roundups.

In the midst of what has been described in the New Yorker as China’s “most intense crackdown on free expression in years,” well-known artist and outspoken human rights advocate Ai Weiwei was two weeks ago detained by Chinese police as he attempted to board a flight at Beijing airport (Guardian). Government officials claim that Ai’s detention “has nothing to do with human rights or freedom of expression,” that he is, rather, “under investigation on suspicion of economic crimes” (AFP). Few outside of China appear to be convinced. In the Guardian, Jonathan Jones opines: “Ai Weiwei has spoken out eloquently for the universality of human rights and the worldwide hunger for freedom. Even if all the charges China are apparently raising were true, it would not alter anything⎯and given his brutal detention it is reasonable to assume they are false.” Yesterday, an international protest organized by artists and curators was staged demanding Ai’s release. The New York Times reported beforehand that the form of the “planned protest⎯in which participants will bring chairs and sit down outside Chinese government buildings around the world⎯draws on an installation titled ‘Fairytale: 1001 Qing Dynasty Wooden Chairs,’ which Mr. Ai did at Documenta in Kassel, Germany, in 2007.”

The distressing news that the artifacts looted from Egypt’s museums and archeological sites during the recent uprising numbered around one thousand was leavened slightly last week by the odd story of the recovery of some of them. It was reported that four priceless treasures, including a gilded wooden statue of King Tutankhamun, had been returned to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo after being found by an employee of the Ministry of Antiquities in an unattended black bag that he happened upon in a subway station one morning on his way to work. A clip of the government news conference announcing the find can be viewed here courtesy of the Telegraph.

The Loving Story, a documentary film about the famous case of Loving v. Virginia in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statute as unconstitutional, has garnered a few mentions on legal blogs in anticipation of its showing later this month at the Tribeca Film Festival. Read about the film at Feminist Law Professors, and a bit about the case, its aftermath, and a forthcoming book about it at Concurring Opinions.

The New York Times reports that new guidelines from China’s censors “all but ban TV dramas featuring time travel” on the basis that they “lack positive thoughts and meaning” and may “casually make up myths, have monstrous and weird plots, use absurd tactics, and even promote feudalism, superstition, fatalism and reincarnation.”

James Joyce’s estate, in the person of his grandson Stephen, is notoriously protective of copyright and has often proven hostile to requests for permission to use his work. Indeed, as reported in Discover Magazine, it recently sent a cease and desist letter to two scientists who had inscribed a line from Joyce’s work into the genome of a synthetic microbe. Against this backdrop, many found cause for celebration when singer Kate Bush revealed that “she has been given permission to use Molly Bloom’s famous soliloquy from Ulysses, in a song to be released next month,” twenty-two years after an initial refusal. But, in the New Yorker, D. T. Max cautions against reading too much into this development. “After all,” he notes, Stephen Joyce “permitted the same passage to be used by Amber in the 2001 dance hit ‘Yes.’”

Warner Brothers has lost the latest round in the ongoing litigation over rights and profits between it and the heirs of the creators of Superman. A judge has denied its bid “to pry open secret documents that purportedly show an agreement between the estates of Superman co-creators Joel Shuster and Jerry Siegel not to make further copyright deals with the studio.” Warner Brothers “argued that the agreement itself was a violation of the Copyright Act and couldn’t be insulated from discovery” while the Shuster and Siegel estates maintained that “those documents were protected by attorney-client privilege.” (THR Esq.)

Controversy has surrounded the release of Joseph Lelyveld’s new biography of Mahatma Gandhi, Great Soul. It was first banned in Gujarat, a western state of India, on the basis of advance reviews in British papers which suggested revelations of a homosexual relationship, and proposals of bans in other states quickly followed (Globe & Mail). Some U.S. book groups then got in on the act, canceling appearances by the author (Boston Globe). Lelyveld asserted that the controversial passages have been taken out of context, telling the Times of India that he never alleged that Gandhi had a homosexual relationship and that “the word ‘bisexual’ nowhere appears in the book” (L.A. Times). The The Daily Beast reports that “three prominent descendants of Gandhi in India have publicly spoken out against [a] proposed [national] ban.”

According to Eric A. Posner, in A Thousand Times More Fair, Kenji Yoshino “argues that Shakespeare’s plays contribute to modern debates about law and justice, and he draws crisp lessons from twelve of those plays.” Posner concludes that “the quality of Yoshino’s readings varies considerably.” He praises the author’s capacity to “teas[e] out the meanings of complex passages,” but faults him for too often using Shakespeare’s work as “a bag of anecdotes to illustrate moral platitudes.” (New Republic) Gary Wills’ review is similarly mixed. Though he concedes that “the class on which this book is based is probably great fun,” he criticizes the limitations of Yoshino’s strategy of pairing plays with current events: “The plays are cut to such trite lessons to keep up the game of headline rummaging.” (NYT) Benjamin Ivry is more enthusiastic, finding Yoshino to be “a refreshingly engaging advocate for Shakespeare.” (Star-Ledger)

Crime, the fiction debut of German defense lawyer Ferdinand von Schirach, is described by reviewer Boyd Tonkin as a “bizarre and unsettling collection of 11 stories about crimes and their consequences.” He expands: “Each tale whips along, a shock at every turn, like some beast with eyes of red-hot coal panting down a forest track at night. For, courtroom procedure aside, the spirit of the German-language Märchen really drives this book: eerie tales of the uncanny, as practised by Hoffmann, Kleist, the Grimms and even Kafka.” (Independent)

Jane Jakeman praises An Uncertain Place, the latest Commisssaire Adamsberg mystery by Fred Vargas, as a “wonderfully intricate and Gothic work” that “add[s] to Vargas’s usual parade of satisfyingly weird characters.” In it, Jakeman tells us, the author “lets herself go in a riot of vampiric complexities: her delights in plot and language are dolphin-like, leaping with pleasure at obscure Cyrillic messages, tracing Danubian family history and sanguinary lore.” (Independent)

Margaret Cannon pronounces Michael Connelly’s The Fifth Witness, which features the return of Mickey Haller from The Lincoln Lawyer, “a superb novel” that “is even better than its predecessor.” (Globe & Mail)

In the latest Invisible Ink column, Christopher Fowler reminds us of the charms of Sarah Caudwell’s clever and witty mystery series that features a professor of medieval law as sleuth aided by four barristers who serve “as a kind of ironic, adult Enid Blyton gang to help solve crimes.” He tells us that Caudwell, who was herself a barrister, “used her knowledge of tax and inheritance laws to add realism to the cases,” but that “apart from that they’re quite potty, with members of the team tromping around exotic locations dropping barbed bons mots to their mentor.” People have been recommending these book to me for years, and this might just be the prod I need to finally pick one up. (Independent)

Kate Sutherland

Weekly Roundup of News & Reviews, March 21-27, 2011

Below are links to some of the news stories and book reviews related to law and the arts that caught my attention this week.

NPR this week reported on the decision of Maine’s new Republican governor to remove a mural from the State Department of Labor. The mural, by Judy Taylor, consists of 11-panels that “depict scenes from Maine’s labor history, including women working as shipbuilders during World War II, textile and woods workers and two strikes – one at a shoe factory in the 1930s, and the other at the International Paper Mill in 1980s.” The Governor asserts that it presents a one-sided view, making some citizens feel unwelcome in state buildings, but union activists regard the removal of the mural as ” a thumb in the eye to Maine’s working people,” particularly as it comes in tandem with the launch of “a contest to rename eight conference rooms that are currently named after icons, activists and historical figures in the Labor Movement, people such as farm worker and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez, and Frances Perkins, a U.S. Secretary of Labor who was the first female cabinet member.” (NPR, NYT, Maine Sunday Telegram, Christian Science Monitor)

The art and art law worlds were abuzz this week over a U.S. District Court ruling in favour of photographer Patrick Cariou in his copyright infringement suit against Richard Prince and the Gagosian Gallery. Cariou filed the suit over Prince’s appropriation of photos from his book Yes, Rasta for use in a series of paintings. Prince admitted to using at least 41 of Cariou’s photos but claimed fair use, arguing that he had transformed them rather than creating derivative images. The judge was not convinced, stating that that “there is vanishingly little, if any, transformative element.” Ultimately, she granted Cariou’s motion for summary judgment. The response of commentators has been mixed. Some consider the judgment a win for originality and hence for art. Others are concerned that it will have grave consequences for appropriation art and for fair use more generally. For more details on the case, and analysis of and commentary on the judgment and the issues that it raises, see A Photo Editor, the NYT, The Art Newspaper, Clancco, Ruling Imagination, and The Art Law Blog.

A preview of a new book by Judith Resnik and Dennis Curtis, Representing Justice: The Creation and Fragility of Courts in Democracies, appears in the Guardian, along with a slide show of images from it. Resnick and Curtis write: “The 220 images of our book map the relationship between courts and democracy and serve as reminders that courts, as the egalitarian institutions we know today, are relatively recent inventions. While venerable, they are at present also vulnerable.”

The big news in the book world this week was a U.S. federal court decision rejecting the proposed Google books settlement. The New York Times reports: “Judge Chin acknowledged that ‘the creation of a universal digital library would benefit many,’ but said that the proposed agreement was ‘not fair, adequate and reasonable.’” He rejected the settlement on the basis of “copyright, antitrust and other concerns,” stating that “it would have granted Google a ‘de facto monopoly’ and the right to profit from books without the permission of copyright owners.” Here again, reactions are mixed. Some consider the decision a victory for authors while others worry about the fate of orphaned works and how any ambitious digital library project might now proceed. The judge left the door open for a revised settlement, but many believe that the sort of revamping of copyright that the settlement sought to achieve ought to be the preserve of democratic debate and legislation rather than negotiation between private parties. (NYT, The Laboratorium, The Bookseller, Guardian, Globe & Mail)

New York’s Court of Appeals this week ruled that it was appropriate for Penguin to bring a copyright infringement suit in New York where its business is located against Oregon nonprofit American Buddha. The court was not persuaded by the argument that the injury should be deemed to have occurred elsewhere since the alleged uploading of the Penguin books had occurred in Oregon and Arizona. The court concluded: “The role of the Internet in cases alleging the uploading of copyrighted books distinguishes them from traditional commercial torts cases where courts have generally linked the injury to the place where sales or customers are lost. The location of the infringement in online cases is of little import inasmuch as the primary aim of the infringer is to make the works available to anyone with access to an Internet connection, including computer users in New York.” (Courthouse News, Bloomberg Businessweek, Law360)

The estate of Adrian Jacobs, author of Willy the Wizard, has been ordered to pay £1.5 million into court as security for costs before its plagiarism case against J.K. Rowling can continue through the UK courts. Justice David Kitchen has set this condition in light of his earlier determination that it is “improbable” that the case will succeed. Rowling has dismissed the claim that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was copied from Jacobs’ book “as ‘not only unfounded but absurd’, and said she had never even seen the book until the claim was launched in 2004.” (Daily Mail, The Bookseller)

The Coca-Cola Case, a documentary film that “chronicles a pair of lawsuits launched against the soft drink giant by the United Steel Workers of America and the International Labour Rights Fund in 2001 and 2006 on behalf of a Colombian union,” has been praised as “a vehicle for a global movement for corporate accountability and union rights.” But Coca-Cola has attempted to stop recent screenings, alleging the film to be defamatory. (The Tyee)

Heirs of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, co-creators of Superman, are returning to court to appeal a limited grant of rights that has left some confusion over who owns aspects of the character’s mythology, the heirs or Warner Brothers. This is only the latest stage in a long-standing legal battle between the parties that has involved a number of lawsuits. (THR, Esq.)

Screenwriter Jake Mandeville-Anthony has filed a copyright infringement suit against Disney/Pixar in U.S. District Court claiming that animated film Cars and its soon-to-be-released sequel are based on characters that he created. (THR, Esq.)

It has been announced that a conference on “Bob Dylan and the Law,” co-sponsored by the Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics, Touro Law School, and the Fordham Urban Law Journal, is to be held at Fordham Law School on the weekend of April 4-5, 2011. (Law & Humanities Blog)

Adam Kirsch describes Marjorie Garber’s new book The Use and Abuse of Literature as “a leisurely and learned ramble through dozens, if not hundreds, of texts and topics” and finds justification for the seeming randomness of her method in “the way it enacts her central thesis: that literature is not so much a subject as an activity.” Kirsch disagrees with Garber on some fundamental points, but he makes the book sound irresistible to me when he posits an answer to the question implied in Garber’s title: “Paradoxically, she suggests that we abuse literature whenever we try to use it, and we use it properly only when we honor its uselessness. To ask whether a work of literature is ‘good for you’ or ‘bad for you,’ Garber writes in her introduction, is ‘judgmental and moral’; such moral effects ‘are incidental and accidental byproducts of literature, not literary qualities.’” Most intriguing. (Boston Globe)

There’s a marvelous essay by Chilean author Roberto Bolaño (1953-2003) in the NYRB this week about his love of books. It opens with these tantalizing sentences: “The books that I remember best are the ones I stole in Mexico City, between the ages of sixteen and nineteen, and the ones I bought in Chile when I was twenty, during the first few months of the coup.” The essay is a preview of a collection of Bolaño’s non-fiction, translated by Natasha Wimmer, that is due to be published by New Directions at the end of May.

Michael Brodeur interviewed poet Kevin Young in the Boston Globe this week about his latest book, Ardency: A Chronicle of the Amistad Rebels, described as “a sprawling account of the 1839 mutiny aboard the slave ship Amistad and its aftermath, told through a variety of perspectives and source materials, from letters the rebels wrote while in jail, to the imagined response of an interpreter (a former slave himself) who was brought in to question them.”

Karen Campbell writes of So Much Pretty, a debut novel by Cara Hoffman “based on a real case that the author encountered during her stint as a police beat reporter,” that it “effectively frames a compelling murder mystery with provocative, troubling issues, exploring adolescent violence, the victimization of women, revenge, and societal pressure to favor the good of the community over the rights of the individual. “ (Boston Globe)

This month Vintage Crime will reissue three mystery novels that Gore Vidal wrote in the 1950s and published under the pseudonym Edgar Box. In the Boston Globe, Diane White writes of them: “The Box novels are minor works in the career of a writer who would become a versatile and prolific man of letters, but Vidal’s style — witty, literate, mischievous — is unmistakable.” Vidal claimed Agatha Christie as his primary influence for these efforts but, for him, according to White, “mystery takes a back seat to satire.”

The release of Henning Mankell’s latest and final Inspector Wallander novel, The Troubled Man (translated by Laurie Thompson) has garnered much press this week, including interviews with Mankell in the Telegraph and the Guardian, an excerpt from the novel in the Telegraph, and reviews in the Independent, the NYT, and Euro Crime. Finally, there’s an entertaining piece in the Telegraph in which Judith Flanders sets Wallander’s exit in the context of those of other famous fictional detectives such as Sherlock Holmes.

Kate Sutherland

Weekly Roundup of News & Reviews, March 14-20, 2011

It’s too late to be a weekend roundup. But I figure better late than never! Below are links to some of the news stories and book reviews related to law and the arts that caught my attention last week.

A group comprised of more than 130 artists, curators, writers, and others are calling for a boycott of Guggenheim Abu Dhabi following reports by Human Rights Watch that document exploitation of foreign migrant workers in the UAE. The group is “demanding that the Guggenheim Foundation and its Abu Dhabi partner take immediate and meaningful steps to safeguard the rights of the workers constructing the new branch museum on Saadiyat Island.” Walid Raad, an organizer of the boycott, said: “Artists should not be asked to exhibit their work in buildings built on the backs of exploited workers. Those working with bricks and mortar deserve the same kind of respect as those working with cameras and brushes.” For more information, click here. (Clancco, NYT) [UPDATE: The Guggenheim Foundation responds.]

Last Monday, the UK government released a draft bill that would introduce dramatic reforms to the libel law of England and Wales, including a new public interest defense, a requirement that claimants demonstrate substantial harm, measures to combat libel tourism, and removal of the presumption in favour of jury trials (Guardian). The bill was welcomed as a step in the right direction by the Publishers Association and the Society of Authors, among others (The Bookseller). But many commentators, including spokespersons for the Libel Reform Campaign that has been so instrumental in the push for reform, say that the bill does not go far enough (Press Gazette). For informative and thought-provoking analysis and criticism of the proposed bill, see the New Statesman, Inforrm’s Blog, Lex Ferenda, cearta.ie, the Free Speech Blog, and The Trial Warrior Blog.

The student author of a sexually explicit short story, and the editor of the university newspaper that published it, were acquitted last week by a Maltese court of offending public morals. The Times of Malta reports that the presiding Magistrate found that the story was neither obscene nor pornographic “and that the police had failed to explain how public morality, which changed over time, had been breached.” The trial sparked “heated public debate about the limits of expression and the boundaries between literature and pornography.” According to Index on Censorship: “The court’s decision is a boost for all writers and artists in Malta, many of whom are part of the “Front against Censorship” (FaC) — a protest movement campaigning to liberalise Malta’s censorship laws.” (Times of Malta, Index on Censorship)

Recent weeks brought a flurry of legal challenges to library closures in the UK. But now the government has announced a review of the multitude of statutory obligations with which local authorities are required to comply with a view to doing away with “burdensome” ones. And among those under review is the sole legal grounding for the aforementioned challenges, the duty of local authorities to provide “a comprehensive and efficient library service under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act.” Library campaigners are understandably concerned by this development. (Guardian).

A little over a week ago, it was reported that the legal battle between Rick Norsigian and the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust over negatives alleged to be lost Adams’ work had escalated; now comes the news that the dispute has been settled. The precise terms of the settlement are confidential, but the parties indicated in a statement that Norsigian cannot use Ansel Adams name when selling prints from the negatives and that such sales can only continue “subject to a disclaimer approved by the Trust.” The Los Angeles Times reports that Norsigian’s asking price for prints has declined accordingly. (NYT, The Art Law Blog, LA Times)

Scott McLemee has interviewed Susie Linfield about her book The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence, a finalist in criticism for the National Book Critics Circle awards, in which, he says, it is apparent that she “holds fast to Twain’s optimism about the power of images of suffering to create enormous moral and political effects.” (Inside Higher Ed)

Brian True-May, producer of British crime drama Midsomer Murders, was suspended from his job last week pending an inquiry after he stated in an interview: “We just don’t have ethnic minorities involved. Because it wouldn’t be the English village with them…. We’re the last bastion of Englishness and I want to keep it that way.” Critics of True-May’s comments have pointed out that his vision of an all-white rural England is very much at odds with contemporary reality. The series is already on the cusp of great change with the retirement of John Nettles, who played Inspector Tom Barnaby for 16 years, and the introduction of a new star, Neil Dudgeon, playing Tom’s cousin John Barnaby, also conveniently a police detective. It remains to be seen whether True-May’s comments and the ensuing outcry will provoke greater changes still. (Guardian, BBC, Racialicious)

In The Anatomy of a Moment, novelist Javier Cercas turns to non-fiction to explore the 1982 siege of the Spanish parliament. Anthony Cummins writes of the book, translated from Spanish to English by Anne McLean, that “its rigour and intensity are taxing” but that it is “a brilliant study of political conduct, which is well worth the effort required.” (Telegraph)

Alison Flood describes The Hanging Shed by Gordon Ferris, the first installment in a new mystery series featuring “Douglas Brodie, a policeman turned soldier turned reporter,” as “deft, disturbing and as thoroughly grimy as its 1946 Glasgow setting.” (The Observer)

In a review of Kate Atkinson’s fourth Jackson Brodie novel, Started Early, Took My Dog, Laura Miller writes of the series: “Each one of these books, including this latest, is a delight: an intricate construction that assembles itself before the reader’s eyes, populated by idiosyncratic, multidimensional characters and written with shrewd, mordant grace.” (Salon)

The English translation of Henning Mankell’s latest, and he says his last, Inspector Wallander novel, The Troubled Man, is due out later this month. According to James Urquhart, it provides a worthy conclusion to “the hugely absorbing Wallander casefile.” (Independent)

Kate Sutherland

Weekend Roundup of News & Reviews, March 7-13, 2011

Below are links to some of the news stories and book reviews related to law and the arts that caught my attention this week.

Art collector Robert Wylde has filed suit against the Gagosian Gallery in U.S. federal court for selling him a painting, Mark Tansey’s The Innocent Eye Test (reproduced above), that was partially owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Wylde claims that Gagosian neglected to tell him when making the sale in 2009 that the Met, “where the work had once been on display, already owned 31 percent of it and had been promised by its longtime owners that the museum would eventually get the whole thing.” Gagosian has issued a statement asserting that it sold the painting in good faith, not knowing that the seller did not have clear title, and indicating that it will “vigorously defend itself.” (NYT)

The Art Newspaper reports that the legal battle between Rick Norsigian and the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust over negatives alleged to be lost Adams’ work has escalated. The story began a decade ago when Norsigian stumbled upon and purchased the cache of negatives at a garage sale. Norsigian has not had the negatives authenticated via forensic testing, but nevertheless, last year, began offering for sale prints and posters billed as “Ansel Adams’ Lost Negatives.” The Trust, which has the exclusive right to reproduce and distribute Adams’ images and to use his name, sued Norsigian for trademark infringement. Now, Norsigian “has launched a counter-suit, alleging slander, defamation, unfair competition, trade libel, civil conspiracy and wrongful interference with a prospective economic advantage.” In particular, Norsigian takes issue with comments made by the managing director of the Trust on CNN which cast aspersions on Norsigian and his authentication efforts. Further, Norsigian alleges that the Trust has pressured The Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona to discredit his claims thereby interfering with his economic activities. The Trust continues to express doubt that the negatives are the work of Ansel Adams, and asserts the necessity of protecting his legacy. (The Art Newspaper)

Performance artist Marina Abramovic has won a copyright infringement suit against filmmaker Pierre Coulibeuf and Regards Productions. The superior court in Paris has ordered the defendants to pay Abramovic €75,000 for infringement of her rights and “for damage [to] the integrity of her work.” Further, the court has ruled Abramovic to be co-author of the contested films. (Clancco, The Art Newspaper)

According to the Guardian, the justices of the UK Supreme Court are this week “busying themselves with a case consisting of the heady combination of Star Wars, stormtroopers’ protective millinery, clay modelling and international copyright enforcement.” The case is the culmination of a longstanding dispute between George Lucas and Andrew Ainsworth, who produced the final 3D version of the helmet worn by stormtroopers in the first Star Wars film, and who subsequently made and sold copies. At issue is “whether or not it is a ‘sculpture’ for the purposes of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act,” and, further, whether “a claim for infringement of a US copyright [is] justiciable, and indeed enforceable, by an English court.” (Guardian)

Five soldiers have appealed their defamation suit against Mohammed Bakri, director of the documentary film Jenin, Jenin, to the Israeli Supreme Court. They allege that the film portrays them as war criminals. The lower court ruled that the film does defame Israeli soldiers as a group, but that no reasonable person would interpret the defamation as being directed at the plaintiffs, who neither appear nor are mentioned in the film, as individuals. Supporters of Bakri allege political persecution, noting that the former Attorney General has declared his support for the plaintiffs and joined their appeal. (Haaretz)

In an open letter to Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, archaeologists have called for the return of police to Egypt’s archaeological sites. They assert that “following the revolution that toppled President Hosni Mubarak last month, a new unprecedented wave of looting and vandalism took place at various sites,” and urge immediate action to protect Egypt’s heritage. (Discovery News)

Publishers Weekly reports that the U.S. Supreme Court “this week granted a writ of certiorari in a case, Golan v. Holder, that questions the constitutionality of a federal statute that restored copyright protection to thousands of foreign works, including symphonies by Shostakovich and Stravinsky, books by Virginia Woolf, artwork by Picasso, and films by Fellini and Hitchcock.” The statute in question is a 1994 amendment to the Copyright Act designed “to implement intellectual property treaties.” The challenge was mounted by “a group of orchestra conductors, educators, performers, publishers, film archivists and motion picture distributors who have relied on artistic works in the public domain for their livelihoods” and who argue that the amendment infringes their free speech rights. (Publishers Weekly, SCOTUS Blog, Wired)

Manju Kapur’s latest novel Custody is described in the Independent as a book “about the lives, loves and losses of wealthy, urban, middle-class Indians” in 1990s Dehli. But, Kapur says in an interview, it’s also “about child custody and the legal system. You can’t live in India and not be extremely furious about the legal system.” (The Independent)

Michael Eaude writes of Richard Zimler’s, The Warsaw Anagrams, a novel set in 1940-41 and featuring as narrator “a distinguished elderly psychoanalyst [who] has to leave his comfortable flat and move into the Warsaw Ghetto,” that it “is both a fast-moving, very readable mystery novel and a rich, serious book, in which Zimler makes us face the worst and pays tribute to those who died in the Holocaust.” (The Independent)

In a spotlight in the Telegraph, Gerard O’Donovan names his six favourite contemporary Irish crime novels⎯including on his list one of my own favourites, Tana French’s In the Woods⎯, and Val McDermid theorizes the enormous popularity of the genre in Ireland now.

In his classic crime column this week, Barry Turner highlights Gladys Mitchell’s Mrs. Bradley mysteries, and Ngaio Marsh’s Inspector Roderick Alleyn series. I have long been a fan of the former, and am keen to check out the latter. (Daily Mail)

Douglas Star’s The Killer of Little Shepherds “charts the gruesome crimes of a man dubbed ‘the French Ripper’, Joseph Vacher, who murdered, mutilated and sexually assaulted 11 people” in 1890s France and, reviewer Rebecca Armstrong tells us, it is “more than a true-crime blockbuster with a historical edge; it is an account of the dramatic birth of forensic science, and a memorial not to a serial killer but to the pioneering men who caught him.” Armstrong concludes: “Star has created a book with every bit as much tension as a thriller, as much detail as a meticulous police procedural, and a court-room drama that’s up there with the best.” (The Independent)

Kate Sutherland

Weekend Roundup of News & Reviews, February 28-March 6, 2011

Below are links to some of the news stories and book reviews related to law and the arts that caught my attention this week.

In the latest stage of a drawn-out court battle over ownership of manuscripts that Franz Kafka entrusted to his friend Max Brod, an inventory of the long hidden archive has been filed, but it is not yet clear whether it includes unknown work. The battle is between Israel’s National Library, and sisters Eva Hoffe and Ruth Wiesler who acquired the manuscripts from their mother Esther Hoffe, Brod’s longtime secretary to whom much of his estate passed after his death in 1968. For a full background on the case and the many interesting issues it raises, see Elif Batuman’s fascinating and exhaustive account, current up to September, in the New York Times. (Reuters, Haaretz)

According to the International Publishers Association, books that had been banned by the recently ousted regime of Ben Ali are returning to bookstore shelves in Tunisia. And anecdotal reports from Egypt suggest that, similarly, “once suppressed titles [are] appearing for impromptu sale on street corners and newspaper kiosks” there. (Guardian)

Another week brings more legal challenges to proposed library closures in the UK, including one by Campaign for the Book, a pro-library campaign group headed by author Alan Gibbons, which involves a national challenge to the culture secretary’s response to library closures “in the light of his duty under the 1964 Public Libraries Act.” (Guardian)

The Guardian reports that a number of publishing houses, primarily in France, were subjected to early morning raids this week in connection with a European commission investigation into ebook price fixing. The commission released a statement indicating that it “has reason to believe that the companies concerned may have violated EU anti-trust rules that prohibit cartels and other restrictive business practices.” (Guardian)

The owner of now defunct publishing company New Century has been ordered by an Indiana court to pay a substantial sum in fines and restitution to authors whose promised books were never produced. (Indianapolis Star)

After an appeal hearing last week in Missouri, judges of the Eighth Circuit are considering whether or not Warner Brothers’ copyright in the 1939 Wizard of Oz movie was infringed by a t-shirt company’s use of images of the characters. Though the images came from publicity posters, they were in the public domain because they were distributed prior to registration of copyright. The court below nevertheless gave judgment in favour of Warner Brothers on the basis that, beyond the actual images, the t-shirt company was exploiting identifiable and distinctive characteristics of the characters developed in the movie that were entitled to copyright protection such as “Dorothy’s inherent wisdom coupled with her Midwestern farm girl innocence” and “the apparent inconsistencies of Scarecrow, (without a brain vs. wisdom and leader), Tin Man (without a heart vs. compassion and tenderness) and Cowardly Lion, (without courage vs. bravery and chivalrousness).” A major difficulty with this analysis, as pointed out by Dennis Crouch in a recent post on Patently-O, is that “the particular identifiable traits of the characters identified here (apart from the portraying actors) were all derived directly from L. Frank Baum’s 1900 Wonderful Wizard of Oz novel that is now out of copyright.” It will be most interesting to see what the appeal court concludes. (Patently-O, THR, Esq.)

In the culmination of a case that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, CBS has succeeded in having a defamation suit against it struck out under California’s anti-SLAPP law as an infringement of its free speech rights. The action was brought by a couple who alleged that a pair of unsavoury characters in a CSI episode were a thinly-veiled, highly defamatory portrait of them. The characters on the episode as finally aired had the same first names and occupations as the plaintiffs, but a different though similar last name. But the scriptwriter, who was acquainted with the plaintiffs through an unsuccessful real estate deal, had initially used their full names in the script, and through leaks, their full names had been linked with the characters in online plot synopses. Nevertheless, the appeal court found that the court below had erred in refusing CBS’s anti-SLAPP motion. According to THR, Esq, Justice Nora Manella wrote that “the creative process must be unfettered, and even though Goldfinger [the scriptwriter] didn’t need to use real names as placeholders for guest characters, it would be imprudent to place legal pitfalls that disrupt a writer at work.” (THR, Esq., Metropolitan News-Enterprise)

A court case which many asserted would break new ground in testing the application of defamation law to Twitter in the U.S. is not to be. Hole singer Courtney Love is reported to have settled the suit brought against her by fashion designer Dawn Simorangkir over an allegedly defamatory Twitter rant for $430,000. (THR, Esq., Rolling Stone)

An archaeology professor from Loyola University in Chicago last week plead guilty “to violating the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, admitting to removing 17 artifacts, including arrowheads, from public lands on two field trips to New Mexico.” He has agreed to return the artifacts and to assist the Bureau of Land Management with an investigation into a large-scale scheme to plunder New Mexico archaeological sites. (Chicago Tribune)

Barry Forshaw lauds Leif Persson’s Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End, the first book in a trilogy which has as its central focus the 1986 assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme, as “an intricately detailed crime narrative” and also “a powerful state-of-the-nation novel.” He concludes: “Those who feel that crime fiction can tackle truly serious issues should pay attention to Persson’s magnum opus. They may tussle with the 500-odd pages, but they will end up hungry for later volumes of this ambitious trilogy.” (The Independent)

In a New York Times review titled “CSI: Georgian England,” Jason Goodwin offers this tantalizing summary of Imogen Robertson’s first novel, Instruments of Darkness: “It’s a sensitive melodrama, investing almost every character with a dark and sometimes unsavory past, its plot filled with signet rings, wills, adventuresses, concealed letters and dissection, all set against the pleasantly unpleasant background of the Gordon Riots, which prodded a mob of Protestant Londoners into an anti-Catholic frenzy. The climax, as might be expected, involves a chase across the ravaged city to ensure that justice is done to the wronged and that the wrongdoers get their comeuppance.” (NYT)

Mary Horlock’s The Book of Lies begins in 1985 on Guernsey Island, but reaches back to the Channel Islands’ WWII history of German occupation. Christian House praises the novel for dissecting “the legacy of this extraordinary time […] with precision and empathy.” He notes the unconventional means by which the tale is told, and ultimately describes the debut author’s achievement thus: “What is exceptional about this novel is the skilled manner in which Horlock records the domino-topple of such mistakes from one generation to another, a terrible inheritance in which yesterday’s conflicts undermine today’s peace.” I will definitely be snapping up a copy of this one. (The Independent)

Kate Sutherland

A Foray into Italian Crime Fiction: Gianrico Carofiglio’s Involuntary Witness


A couple of months ago, when I tweeted a link to an article in the Observer that heralded “a new wave of Italian crime writers,” I quickly received a flurry of replies insisting that, of the writers mentioned therein, Gianrico Carofiglio was the one whose work I must sample without delay. One of my correspondents went so far as to dub Guido Guerrieri, the character at the centre of Carofiglio’s series of legal thrillers, “an Italian Philip Marlowe.”

Intrigued as I was by this description, it initially struck me as unlikely, given how thoroughly a product of 1930s and 40s Los Angeles Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe seems to me to be. But even if Marlowe is rooted in his time and place, noir certainly travels. The success of Akashic Books’ marvelous noir anthologies which serve up hardboiled crime stories from every corner of the globe amply demonstrates that point. It was undoubtedly the noir quality of Carofiglio’s books which my correspondent was lauding and, having now read Involuntary Witness, the first book featuring world-weary criminal defense lawyer Guido Guerrieri, I can echo the recommendation of him as a most intriguing noir antihero.

At the beginning of the book, Guerrieri’s wife leaves him and, despite the fact that he hadn’t seemed particularly invested in his marriage, this provokes something of a breakdown. It’s an existential crisis. Guerrieri hasn’t lost his life’s purpose so much as the illusion that he had a purpose in life. Work provides no counter-balance to his unraveling personal life for, there too, he realizes he has long been deluding himself. He had not become a lawyer out of a passion for justice as he had sometimes tried to convince himself. Rather, he “had become a lawyer by sheer chance, because [he] had found nothing better to do or wasn’t up to looking for it.” He had just been marking time in practice, “waiting for [his] ideas to clarify.” His wife’s departure brings a now unwelcome clarity: “Then the lid blew off and from the pan emerged a lot of things I had never imagined and didn’t want to see. That no one would want to see.”

But in the end, it is his work as a lawyer that brings him back to himself and into the world, when he is engaged to defend Abdou Thiam, a 31-year-old Senegalese pedlar who has been charged with the murder of a 9-year-old Italian boy. Thiam had been seen speaking to the boy on the beach on a number of occasions, and has been found to have a photo of him as well as some children’s books among his possessions. A bar owner has said that he witnessed Thiam walking towards the boy’s grandparents’ home on the day in question, and one of his fellow pedlars has said that he saw Thiam washing his car the day after. This tissue of circumstantial evidence, through the lens of the racism of witnesses, police, lawyers, and judges, is thought to add up to an airtight case. Guerrieri has no faith in his capacity to counter it, and initially advises Thiam to opt for “the shortened procedure” which would rule out an acquittal but perhaps lead to something less than a life sentence. But Thiam protests his innocence and wants to fight for an acquittal. Guerrieri’s growing belief in and sense of responsibility to his client, and the challenge of the trial gradually bring him back to life.

This is not a mystery novel. No attempt is made to get to the bottom of the question of who committed the murder. All of the suspense relates to the outcome of the trial. Following the process from beginning to end offers some fascinating glimpses into the Italian legal system. (The author served for many years as an anti-mafia prosecutor in Bari, the same southern Italian city in which the novel is set, so I’m confident that the depiction of the operation of Italian criminal law is an accurate one.) One facet of the novel that I particularly appreciated that Carofiglio has in common with some of my favourite Scandanavian crime writers is that he eschews the Hollywood version in favour of what seems a more realistic portrayal of the progress of a case through the justice system, adeptly conveying its plodding pace and bureaucratic nature without thereby producing a plodding read.

I was quickly caught up in Guerrieri’s life, and in Thiam’s fate, and found Involuntary Witness overall to be an always interesting, sometimes riveting, and ultimately very satisfying read. Carofiglio has written four novels featuring Guerrieri as the central character, three of which have so far been published in English translation, with the final one due out later this year. I am very much looking forward to continuing on to read the rest.