I read, and hugely admired, ‘An Honest Man’ (the second in the Charles Holborne series), before reading ‘The Brief’. Taking the two books out of order certainly did no harm to my enjoyment of this splendid novel.
I am completely hooked by Charles as a character: his struggles, his background, his continually tested honour and courage. I find him utterly compelling and attractive, as I do the legal milieu in which he operates, and the wider setting of 60s London, reproduced in meticulous detail.
The clarity and economy of Simon Michael’s writing, his way of building a scene, internalising at just the right moments, his descriptive abilities, authentic dialogue, and his masterful plotting, all combine to make ‘The Brief’ a joy to read. On completion, you sit back, and think, “Bloody hell, that was good.”
The choice to render the trial as a transcript, thereby making it read like a play, is a stroke of genius. What was spoken was more than enough to manifest the scene in your mind – you simply fill in the tone of voice, body language, and any other physical details yourself.
Simon Michael places Charles in some terrible fixes, and does it so skilfully, cranking up the tension to an unbearable level, that you are wholly riveted to the plot to see how on earth the hero will come through with his life, let alone his reputation.
Essentially, I see Holborne as a man for whom truth and fairness trump all other concerns. This does not make for an easy life. Under increasing pressure, he acts in the way we all feel we would like to, but suspect our nerve would fail us. Yet he is no plaster saint – he is fully rounded, capable of all shades of feeling, of impetuousness, and burdened with a deep vulnerability.
In this series of books, I believe Simon Michael is really achieving something special, both as a storyteller and as a creator of a character sure to capture both the mind and heart of any discerning reader; a character with longevity, archetypal yet wholly individual. I am more than keen to read the third in the series, ‘The Lighterman’, when it comes out later in 2017.