Blood Witness by Alex Hammond – Debut Aussie crime

hammond-blood-witness-male-authorDefence lawyer Will Harris is reluctantly drawn into a bizarre murder trial. A terminally ill man claims to have witnessed the brutal crime – in a vision. But the looming trial is more than just a media circus: it’s Will’s first big case since the tragic death of his fiancée.

With the pressure mounting, Will’s loyalties are split when his fiancée’s sister is charged with drug trafficking. The strain of balancing both cases takes its toll and Will finds himself torn between following the law and seeking justice.
(Source: Penguin website)

Although for the past couple of years I’ve concentrated on reading books by Australian women, my first love has always been crime. Male or female authors, Australian or international, it hasn’t mattered. I started with an early reading diet of Agatha Christie – my dad’s favourite – along with his beloved “true crime” pulps from the 1960s, with their deliciously lurid covers. As a teenager, I progressed on to Simenon and Arthur Conan Doyle, to Barbara Vine, PD James and Elizabeth George. In more recent years I developed a passion for Henning Mankell and other Swedish crime authors, as well as the novels of husband-and-wife writing team Nicci French. Before that I gravitated towards page-turning psychological thrillers from the US like those by Michael Palmer, and legal thrillers by John Grisham and Richard North Patterson. It’s into the latter category that Alex Hammond’s debut legal thriller fits, Blood Witness, as the publisher’s hook goes: ‘One man’s search for justice and redemption [which] plunges him into the violent world of Melbourne’s underbelly.’

Especially considering Hammond is a first-time author, the story doesn’t disappoint. The opening prologue, which sets up the protagonist Will’s character and motivation, is as exciting as anything I’ve read in a long time. It says much for Hammond’s story-telling skills and augurs well for his future writing. (Blood Witness is the start of a series.)

Apart from the engaging, anti-hero protagonist and insight into Melbourne’s social and criminal worlds, what particularly interests me about this book is the way Hammond weaves in an obscure legal precedent from Britain. Hammond uses the (fictional?) case of ‘R. v Lam’, which touches on the late nineteenth-century fascination with spiritualism, both to develop intriguing plot points and moments of suspense, and also to shed light on the workings of the Australian legal system. His insights, no doubt, draw on his own background as a lawyer.

Some readers might find parts of this story confronting, particularly Harris’ legal team’s defence of the indefensible, the sexual grooming of adolescents. However the book is not without touches of grim humour to relieve the tension. Some of the humour is generated by the protagonist’s relationship with his cat, Toby, whom he has neglected:

Silence from Toby was indicative of nothing. He could be content or plotting a furniture-oriented revenge.

Elsewhere, Hammond sends up the potential melodrama of his narrative by foregrounding it. This is his description of the dying psychic, Kovacs, whose unlikely testimony becomes pivotal to the defence’s case; Kovacs is being hauled by a pneumatic lift into the back of a van:

The driver turned on the mechanism and Kovacs slowly started to rise and rattle like a bad effect from a horror movie.

While the plot is page-turning and rarely flags, as it progresses it does stretch credulity. Still, Hammond’s ‘scientific’ explanation at the end, which makes sense of some of the wilder aspects of the narrative, should satisfy sceptical readers and justify their suspension of disbelief.

Likely to appeal to fans of Law & Order, Rumpole and Rake alike, Blood Witness is overall a very good read. I’m looking forward to Book 2 in the series.

~

Title: Blood Witness
Author: Alex Hammond
Publisher: Penguin Australia / Michael Joseph
Year: 2013
ISBN: 9781921901492
Review copy kindly supplied by the publisher.

Advertisements
Leave a comment

10 Comments

  1. Sounds like a great read, Elizabeth, especially as as 19thC spiritualism is one of my research fields & it will feature in the novel after my current one – looks like a trip to to the bookstore is in order!

    Like

    Reply
  2. shelleyrae @ Book'd Out

     /  July 13, 2013

    I googled the case because I thought it was such an interesting defence but couldn’t find any reference to it 🙂

    Like

    Reply
  3. I love a good twisty legal thriller and 19 Century Spiritualism is a fascinating area. Have you read Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace, Elizabeth?

    Like

    Reply
    • I haven’t read Alias Grace, though I heard part of an audio version on the radio. I go hot and cold on Atwood (didn’t much like The Blind Assassin). From memory, Alias Grace was based on a true story, wasn’t it?

      Like

      Reply
      • Yes it was, I believe. I didn’t love the blind assassin either, but alias grace was one of those extraordinary books that’s outside anyone’s usual output – or at least, that’s how I experienced it. I hadn’t heard of Atwood before I read it and I thought, for some reason, that it was a debut novel – and I wanted to kill myself with despair. Then I found out otherwise and I decided to live and give this writing thing a stab after all. ;). Worth a look, I think, bearing in mind that recommendations are always fraught!

        Like

        Reply
        • What an anxiety of influence that must have been! Glad you weren’t discouraged and pressed on, Imelda. I’ll keep Alias Grace in mind for my towering ‘To Be Read’ pile.

          Like

          Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: