Tag Archives: law & literature

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

The Lawyers of Children’s Literature

I recently reconnected with a childhood friend on Facebook, and she reminded me that, at the age of ten, I was already telling anyone who asked that I was going to be a lawyer when I grew up. As it turns out, I became a law professor, but I remain a paid-up (albeit non-practicing) member of the Saskatchewan Bar, so mission accomplished, more or less. The focus of this post, though, is not the attainment of the goal but what inspired it. Where did I get the idea that a lawyer was a thing to be, and what sort of work did I envision a lawyer doing?

There are two of us now, but back then there were no lawyers in my family, or even in my family history. (Recent genealogical research has confirmed the latter perception. I’ve turned up shepherds, coalminers, steelworkers, carpenters, calico printers, tailors, domestic servants, schoolteachers, and even one errant phrenologist, but no lawyers.) Nor were there any lawyers amongst the family members of my friends. My childhood pre-dated the heyday of television legal dramas, so I don’t think that I can locate the inspiration there. I might have caught the odd Perry Mason rerun, but I was already in law school by the time L.A. Law and Street Legal arrived on the small screen.

So I can only conclude that, as is true of many of my good ideas, it came from books. But which books? Who are the lawyers of children’s literature? I have thought long and hard about my childhood reading, particularly beloved repeat reads, and I can recall only two fictional lawyers that got more than a passing mention.

The first appears in From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. The novel details the adventures of eleven-year-old Claudia Kincaid when, feeling underappreciated, she runs away from her suburban Connecticut home with her nine-year-old brother Jamie in tow, and takes up residence in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. But the tale is not told by either of the youthful protagonists; the book is narrated by Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, an elderly, eccentric patron of the arts, in the form of a letter to Saxonberg, her lawyer of 41 years, instructing him to change her will and explaining why she wishes him to do so. Throughout, Mrs. Frankweiler represents Saxonberg as no friend of the arts. He’s dull and boring, caring only for law, taxes, and his grandchildren. He’s “never set [his] well-polished toe inside that museum,” and is “altogether unconscious of the magic of Michelangelo.” Though it is apparent by the end that this is not an entirely accurate picture, it nevertheless renders Saxonberg an unlikely role model for my ten-year-old self who had artistic as well as legal aspirations. I might credit the book with stoking my interest in museums and art galleries, and certainly with contributing to the fascination that New York City held for me decades before I ever traveled there. But I rule it out as an early impetus to pursue a legal career.

That leaves Carson Drew, “well-known lawyer,” and father to teenage sleuth Nancy Drew. But surely, I thought, Carson Drew played only a bit part in the series, keeping well in the background as parents are wont to do in children’s literature to accord child characters plenty of room for independent action. Not so, I found after a bit of rereading. Certainly he doesn’t get in the way of Nancy’s independence⎯she whisks about the countryside in that enviable blue convertible with his blessing. But he’s a solid presence and his legal work is far from an incidental detail. On the first page of the first installment of the series, The Secret of the Old Clock, we’re told that he “frequently discussed puzzling aspects of cases with [Nancy],” and thereafter we find that her investigations are sometimes undertaken to assist in his work. Even when her cases are not connected with his, they tend to focus on legal matters (wills, trusts, contracts, and patents, alongside the more readily anticipated counterfeiting, theft, and kidnapping), and legal information or advice from him or one of his colleagues often proves pivotal in solving the mysteries. Further, when her father praises her investigative prowess, the compliments are sometimes couched in legal terms. “‘You sound like a trial lawyer, the way you cross-examine me,’ Mr. Drew protested, but with evident enjoyment.” And later: “Excellent deducting.”

Perhaps, then, I fancied that lawyers’ work involved Nancy Drew style investigation but with a paycheque attached, and I really ought to have set my sights on a career as a private detective. If it was Nancy rather than Carson Drew who served as primary role model and inspiration, then I’m in good legal company, standing with the likes of U.S. Supreme Court justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor. Still, I can’t help but think that for me, and perhaps for them too, the legal aspect contributed to the allure.

But the notable lawyers of children’s literature must number more than two. Who have I missed? Please share any names that occur to you in the comments section below.

Kate Sutherland

The Very Brief Legal Career of Robert Louis Stevenson

Last month, I wrote of lawyer-writers who successfully pursued simultaneous legal and literary careers. Robert Louis Stevenson was not one of them. Indeed, despite years of legal study at the University of Edinburgh, admittance as an advocate after passing his Scots Bar examinations “with credit,” and the above bewigged photograph (taken to please his mother), I don’t think that Stevenson can rightfully be claimed for the law at all.

Law wasn’t even his second choice after literature, but his second second choice. He came from a famous family of engineers, known as the Lighthouse Stevensons, and he began in that field. But, according to biographer Claire Harman, after “four years studying at the university” and “three summers on the works,” including stints “in a carpenter’s shop, a foundry and a timberyard,” Stevenson “still couldn’t tell one kind of wood from another or make the most basic calculations.” Even his father Thomas, who so dearly wished it otherwise, had to concede that Stevenson wasn’t cut out for the family business. That is not to say, however, that he was prepared to endorse a literary career for his son.

Stevenson’s cousin Etta tells the story thus:

I happened to be in the house when Lou told his father he did not want to continue to be a civil engineer. This was a great blow and a terrible disappointment to Uncle Tom, as for generations the Stevensons had all been very clever civil engineers; and already Lou had gained medals for certain inventions of his in connection with lighthouses. And Uncle Tom was more disappointed still when Lou declared that he wanted to go in for a literary life, as Uncle Tom thought he would make nothing at that⎯in fact that it was just a sort of excuse for leading a lazy life! Eventually it was well talked over, and Uncle Tom said that if he agreed to read for the Bar in order to become an advocate, after passing the examination, if he still persisted in wishing to go in for literature, he would not prevent it, for then he would have a good sound profession at his back.

Alas, Stevenson was as indifferent a student of law as he had been of engineering. His friend Charles Guthrie (later Lord Guthrie) recalled, “we did not look for Louis at law lectures, except when the weather was bad.” Harman elaborates: “A notebook that survives from his law studies is peppered with caricatures and doodles, and the few notes there are on Roman citizenship segue with comical readiness into a much more engaging daydream containing lines of a later poem.” Andrew Murray (later Lord Dunedin), stated bluntly that, although he and Stevenson were “very good friends,” they “did not really see much of each other” even as fellow law students, for: “I was interested in my profession⎯a profession which he frankly cared nothing about.”

If, in the words of another friend, John Geddie, Stevenson paid only “desultory attention” in his law classes, he did buckle down to study for the Bar examinations. But this study awakened no new interest in the subject, and it interfered with the work that really mattered to him. In a letter to Fanny Sitwell (later his wife), dated April 1875, he lamented: “I had no time to write, and, as it is, am strangely incapable. […] I have been reading such lots of law, and it seems to take away the power of writing from me. From morning to night, so often as I have a spare moment, I am in the embrace of a law book – barren embraces.”

Stevenson passed the examinations and was admitted to the Bar on July 14th, 1875. For a time thereafter, as was the custom, he “walk[ed] about the Parliament House five forenoons a week, in wig and gown,” seeking work from solicitors with cases before the Courts. He was not altogether unsuccessful in this endeavour. Guthrie recounted: “I do indeed remember one morning in the Parliament House, when he came dancing up to me waving a bundle of legal papers in great glee: ‘Guthrie, that simpleton So-and-so has actually sent me a case! Now I have tasted blood, idle fellows like you will see what I can do!'” But he was not offered many briefs, and he accepted even fewer. Guthrie made reference to only “four complimentary pieces of employment [Stevenson] is said to have received, the fees for which did not run into two figures.”

Stevenson wrote to Fanny that he found it “a great pleasure to sit and hear cases argued or advised,” but nevertheless bemoaned the fact that: “I lose all my forenoons at Court!” Before long, he gave up the charade and devoted himself full time to writing. The brass nameplate engraved “R.L. Stevenson, Advocate” that his parents had affixed to the door of their home at 17 Heriot Row remained, but Stevenson no longer walked the halls of Parliament House in wig and gown. In fact, he soon quitted Edinburgh, and Scotland, altogether.

Stevenson “had no natural taste for the law,” Guthrie concluded. Nor, it seems to have been generally agreed among his legal friends, did he have any particular talent for it. So Stevenson’s defection was no great loss to the law. But it was a great gain to literature. And his keen readers, among whom I count myself, can be grateful that, in the end, he chose a literary life.

Sources:

Sidney Colvin, ed., The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson (1900).

Lord Guthrie, Robert Louis Stevenson: Some Personal Recollections (1920).

Claire Harman, Robert Louis Stevenson: A Biography (2005).

Rosaline Massin, ed., I Can Remember Robert Louis Stevenson (1922).

* The photos of Robert Louis Stevenson as an advocate, and of his doodles in lieu of note-taking (albeit from his engineering rather than his law school days) are from the digital collection of the National Library of Scotland. The photo of 17 Heriot Row is one I took myself the last time I followed Stevenson’s footsteps round Edinburgh.

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

Poetry & Law: M. NourbeSe Philip’s Zong!



Poetry and law may seem to some as incommensurable as dancing and architecture. Not so, according to M. NourbeSe Philip: “Law and poetry both share an inexorable concern with language⎯the “right” use of the “right” words, phrases, or even marks of punctuation; precision of expression is the goal shared by both.” But language may be used to very different ends in each realm: “The law uses language as a tool for ordering; in the instant case, however, I want poetry to disassemble the ordered, to create disorder and mayhem so as to release the story that cannot be told, but which, through not-telling, will tell itself.”

The story that cannot be told, the subject of Philip’s most recent collection of poems, is that of the Zong massacre. In September 1781, the slave ship Zong set sail from the east coast of Africa bound for Jamaica under the stewardship of Captain Luke Collingwood. The “cargo” consisted of 470 Africans. The voyage should have taken six to nine weeks but, due to navigational errors, stretched into four months. By the end of November, sixty Africans had died “for want of water for sustenance,” and forty more had thrown themselves into the sea “through thirst and frenzy thereby occasioned.” A further 150 Africans were then flung into the sea to their deaths on the orders of the Captain who believed that if they died on board by “natural causes,” the owners would have to bear the loss, whereas if they died by drowning, the loss would be covered by the owners’ insurance policy as attributable to “the perils of the sea.”

Back home in England, a famous case resulted: Gregson v. Gilbert. It was not a murder trial, since the Africans who had been killed were regarded as chattels not as human beings, but rather a legal dispute that turned on the finer points of insurance law. The insurers refused to pay the owners’ claim, and the owners challenged that refusal in court. The owners won in the initial trial, but the jury’s decision was overturned on appeal by the Court of King’s Bench.

Philip describes that King’s Bench decision, the only part of the litigation to make its way into the law reports, as “the tombstone, the one public marker of the murder of those Africans on board the Zong,” and she opts to limit herself to that text, using it as “a word store” for the composition of her book-length sequence of poems. She literally deconstructs the decision, pulling apart the words with which it is composed, then rearranging them to construct her own text. Through the alchemy of poetry, she also thereby reconstructs the African passengers, so present aboard the ship, yet peculiarly absent from the legal decision. “In Zong!,” Philip writes, “the African, transformed into a thing by the law, is re-transformed, miraculously, back into human.”

These are poems in which the placement of the words on the page is as important as the meaning that those words convey. In the early poems, the words are spread thinly across the page, the spaces making visible the absence of African bodies and voices. But as the sequence continues, the poems become denser and denser, the words tumbling over one another, sometimes scoring one another out. The effect is disorienting, disturbing, and, ultimately, extremely powerful.

I recommend reading the book at least twice, the first time approaching the poems fresh, taking them on their own terms. Then again after having read the material appended at the end (Philip’s essay on the writing of the book, from which I’ve quoted above, and a copy of the Gregson v. Gilbert decision) to more fully appreciate how Philip has illuminated injustice by making poetry out of law.

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.

Kate Sutherland

Weekend Roundup of News & Reviews, February 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.

Last month, Stephen Hillard and Cruel Rune LLC, the author and publisher of Mirkwood, a novel featuring J.R.R. Tolkien as a character, received a letter from the Tolkien estate threatening immediate legal action for violations of intellectual property unless all copies of the book are destroyed. But it is Hillard and Cruel Rune who are now taking preemptive legal action, seeking a declaration from a Texas court that the book, which they describe as “both a work of fiction and a critical analysis of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien,” is protected by the fair use doctrine and the First Amendment. Given the current popularity of works of fiction in which historical figures appear as characters (termed “faction” by one recent commentator), the implications of the case could be far-reaching. (THR, Esq., Courthouse News, Observer)

Fawzia Afzal-Khan has self-published her fictionalized memoir, Lahore With Love: Growing Up With Girlfriends Pakistani Style. It was published by Syracuse University Press last spring, but quickly spiked after the press received threats of legal action from a woman in Pakistan who alleges that one of the characters in the book is a defamatory portrait of her. The National Writers Union and others have criticized SUP for failing to champion the author and her right to freedom of expression, particularly in light of the protection now afforded by the U.S. SPEECH Act against the enforcement of foreign libel judgments. You can read SUP’s statement here, TWU’s statement here, and the author’s account of her experience here. (Inside Higher Ed, TDR, change.org)

The International Publishers Association is concerned about the fate of Shahla Lahiji, founder of Roshangaran, an Iranian press that publishes books on women’s issues, after she is said to have been named on a “blacklist, reportedly circulated by a chapter of Iran’s Basij militia at Khajeh Nasir University, contain[ing] names of Iranian publishers it thinks are displaying ‘evidence of soft overthrow and velvet revolution.’” (The Bookseller)

A UK teacher is waiting to hear from an employment tribunal whether she’s entitled to compensation for her 2009 dismissal. She was fired for gross misconduct over a short novel she wrote that was intended to get students in difficulty interested in reading by including them as characters. Though by all accounts the project succeeded in this aim, the controversy that led to her dismissal erupted when the book, replete with sexual references and swear words, was inadvertently made publicly available through an online self-publishing site. (Guardian)

On behalf of UK library users, a Birmingham-based human-rights law firm is mounting a court challenge to Somerset and Gloucestershire library closures on the basis that proposed cuts violate “the statutory obligation under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act for local authorities to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient library service for everyone wanting to use it.’” (Guardian)

The family of animator Max Fleischer has been unsuccessful in a bid to claim exclusive ownership of his creation, comic character Betty Boop. The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals this week upheld a lower court ruling denying the family’s copyright and trademark claims on the basis that they were unable to prove a valid transfer to them in the intervening decades of the rights that Fleischer sold to Paramount Pictures in the 1940s. Of the trademark claim, Judge J. Clifford Wallace wrote: “If we ruled that Avela’s depictions of Betty Boop infringed Fleischer’s trademarks, the Betty Boop character would essentially never enter the public domain.” (THR Esq., WSJ, Clannco)

Accusations of plagiarism flew around the music world this week, leveled against Lady Gaga, Kanye West, and Britney Spears. Only the claim against Spears appears poised to spark a lawsuit, with the Bellamy Brothers complaining that her new single “Hold It Against Me” is “too close” to their 1979 hit “If I Said You Had A Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me?”, and indicating that they “will without doubt take the appropriate legal action if [their] attorneys agree [they’ve] been ripped off.” (The Daily Beast, Jezebel, Starpulse)

Bunhill Fields cemetery in north London has attained the protected status of a Grade I designation on English Heritage’s register of parks and gardens of special historic interest. “The cemetery, founded in the 1660s as a burial ground for nonconformists, radicals and dissenters, holds the remains of John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, Daniel Defoe, who wrote Robinson Crusoe, and the poet and artist William Blake, among thousands of others.” To see a slide show of photographs taken there by Graham Turner for the Guardian, click here. The photograph above and to the right is of the monument to Daniel Defoe. (Guardian)

John le Carré has donated his literary archive to Oxford’s Bodleian Library. The archive includes multiple drafts of his novels, and many boxes of correspondence and personal photographs. Le Carré was a student at Oxford, as was his most famous character, fictional Cold War spy George Smiley. “Oxford was Smiley’s spiritual home, as it is mine. And while I have the greatest respect for American universities, the Bodleian is where I shall most happily rest,” said le Carré. The Bodleian plans to make the archive available to researchers online. (Telegraph, Independent)

Kate Taylor profiles Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom, “a bestselling Swedish crime-writing duo with the most unlikely background: They met through a mutual interest in the rehabilitation of ex-cons.” The profile suggests that their books exemplify the best qualities of the current wave of Swedish crime fiction with which they are associated in that they simultaneously provide entertainment and social commentary. (Globe & Mail)

Vit Wagner highlights the best of Canadian crime fiction in an article primarily focused on author Ian Hamilton whose debut novel, The Water Rat of Wanchai, the first installment in a Toronto-based mystery series featuring forensic accountant Ava Lee as sleuth, has just been released to rave reviews. (Toronto Star)

James Bartleman talks with Mark Medley about his first novel, As Long as the Rivers Flow, which centres on the residential school experience of the main character and its aftermath. “It’s not, Bartleman says, ‘an indictment of white society,’ but rather a novel showing how a wrong committed against one person can echo for generations.” He hopes “that this book would appeal to marginalized people everywhere.” (National Post)

Kate Sutherland

Weekend Roundup of News & Reviews, February 14-20, 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.

Ablene Cooper has filed a lawsuit against author Kathryn Stockett over her best-selling novel The Help. Cooper, who has spent much of life working as a maid, including twelve years in the employ of Stockett’s brother, claims that one of the characters in the book, a maid named Aibileen Clark, “is an unauthorized appropriation of her name and image, which she finds emotionally distressing.” The complaint details a number of similarities between the complainant and the character. Stockett’s publishers have indicated that they “don’t think there is any basis to the legal claims.” (NYT, Guardian)

The UK government has indicated that it may take control of libraries if local councils “are overzealous in closures,” out of concern that “some communities, particularly rural ones, may end up with no access to library services,” and worry over “the effects of the closures on children and the elderly.” (The Bookseller)

This week Borders, the second-largest bricks-and-mortar bookstore chain in the U.S., filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Publishers are particularly hard hit by this latest blow to the book industry, as much of Borders’ debt is owed to them. (Los Angeles Times)

Just a day later, Australians were shocked by the “collapse of REDgroup, which owns the country’s largest bookshop chain Angus & Robertson, as well as Borders and the Whitcoulls chain of newsagencies in New Zealand.” The Sydney Morning Herald reports that this occurrence is not linked to the fate of the U.S. namesake of Borders Australia, though the bricks-and-mortar book trade on both sides of the Pacific has similarly “suffered from the rise of internet book sales and constrained consumer spending.” The affected chains have been “placed into voluntary administration.” (The Bookseller, Sydney Morning Herald)

David LaChapelle has launched a copyright infringement suit against Rihanna, alleging that the recently released music video for her song “S & M” borrows heavily from the imagery of his photographs. (NYT, Radar Online, Daily Mail)

In another case allegedly involving the use of real names in fiction, a lawyer for CBS was in court in California this week seeking the dismissal of a defamation and invasion of privacy suit brought against the network over an episode of television crime drama CSI. Scott and Melinda Tamkin claim that the episode, featuring a couple named Scott and Melinda Tucker, was penned by the scriptwriter “using their names and likeness at a time when he was angry with them because of a real estate deal gone awry.” A three-justice panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal will issue its decision within 90 days. (Daily News)

Jayme Gordon, a Boston illustrator, has filed a copyright infringement suit against Dreamworks Animation. He alleges that characters in the hit movie Kung Fu Panda “are substantially similar to illustrations of characters he created and registered with the U.S. Copyright Office in 2000 that are collectively titled Kung Fu Panda Power,” and that “DreamWorks rejected illustrations he sent to them in the 1990s.” (The Unruly of Law)

Irish artist Jim Fitzpatric is seeking to secure copyright to his iconic picture of Che Guevara. He explains that he hadn’t sought royalties earlier despite the proliferation of the image because he’s never cared about money. But now he wants to establish ownership “so he can hand over the rights to the Guevara family and the Cuban people” when the Che Guevara Cultural Centre opens in Havana in September. (The Irish Times)

In accordance with a ruling now made final by the U. S. Department of the Interior, the University of Pennsylvania must return sacred Tlingit artifacts, including “ceremonial hats and helmets” that “were purchased by a curator in the university’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology from 1918 to 1925.” (Chronicle of Higher Education)

An exhibition at Rome’s State Archives reveals the truth behind the bad boy image of Renaissance painter Caravaggio. His crimes, detailed in carefully preserved “handwritten police logs, legal and court parchments” from the late 16th and early 17th centuries, ranged from assaulting a waiter with a plate of artichokes, to carrying a sword and a dagger without a permit, to killing a man over a gambling debt. (BBC)

For four decades, Camilo José Vergara has been photographing murals “in the poorest and most segregated communities in America.” Now he has assembled a slide show of some of these images to showcase the unique view of black history that they offer: “Official murals painted on schools, hospitals, government offices, and community organizations often portray a cheerful and optimistic view of racial progress, but murals on the walls of convenience and liquor stores, barbershops, fast food restaurants, churches, and abandoned buildings offer a lively alternative to this bland vision.” The photograph that heads this post was taken by Vergara in Compton, California in 2000. (Slate Magazine)

This week an exhibition of new work by artist James Hart Dyke opens in London. It includes 40 paintings, 25 drawings, and prints that document a year he spent shadowing MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service. He was invited to do so by then head of the organization, John Scarlett, at the behest of MI6 officers who felt that the paintings he would produce would be a suitable way to document their history “as part of the run-up to the 2010 centenary year.” Praised by Scarlett as “highly evocative of life inside MI6,” Hart Dyke’s exhibition promises to be “an unexpected treat for that section of the British public who are endlessly fascinated by spies and their world.” (Guardian)

Thriller writer Charles Cumming is interviewed by Jake Kerridge about his new novel, The Trinity Six, “a yarn about an academic’s attempts to uncover the identity of a previously unsuspected sixth member of the Cambridge spy ring.” (Telegraph)

Thirteen lost short stories by Daphne Du Maurier, tracked down by Ann Willmore, a Cornish bookseller and longtime Du Maurier fan, are to be published by Virago Press in May. Says Willmore of the stories: “They have a sting in the tale, and are quite sinister. They are different from her novels.” My curiosity is thoroughly piqued. (The Independent)

According to Charles McGrath, Wesley Stace’s Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer is at once a murder mystery and a novel about classical music that features both “a convincing fictional composer” and “an entertaining fictional critic.” (NYT)

Brett Alexander Savory pronounces Keith Hollihan’s debut novel, The Four Stages of Cruelty, “powerful” and “mesmerizing.” Set in a maximum security prison, with a female corrections officer as the main character, Savoy tells us, it offers “startling moments of insight into what separates people from monsters⎯not much at all.” (Globe and Mail)

Hallie Ephron praises Kate Taylor’s historical novel A Man in Uniform for offering a fresh take on the Dreyfus affair. In it, lawyer François Dubon finds his orderly life in 1897 Paris turned upside down when he is persuaded to assist Captain Dreyfus after he has been convicted of spying for Germany. Along the way, Dubon “rediscovers the passion for justice that led him to practice law in the first place.” Ephron concludes: “It rewards the patient reader with a rich sense of time and place while offering a fascinating look at a historically based what-if.” (Boston Globe)

In Louise Dean’s “darkly comic” and “bracingly acerbic” novel The Old Romantic, Nick Goodyew, an English divorce lawyer, through the efforts of his put-upon younger brother, reunites with his parents from whom he is estranged, and who are estranged from each other. Sylvia Brownrigg writes of the novel: “Although class markers are a recurrent theme, The Old Romantic is essentially a highly entertaining, vivid evocation of love and marriage in its various forms.” (NYT)

In an omnibus review of new books about print magazines, Steven Heller finds much to like in a pair of books about the publications that provoked and emerged in the wake of the 1954 institution of the Comics Code in the United States. Heller says of The Horror! The Horror! Comic Books the Government Didn’t Want You to Read!: “In addition to offering a generous helping of controversial comics … Trombetta’s book provides insightful history.” And he sums up The Weird World Of Eerie Publications: Comic Gore That Warped Millions of Young Minds! as “a curiously wonderful, weird and eerie tale of magazine history.” (NYT)