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Thrilling novel set in LONDON (Luton and Cambridge University)

13th March 2024

Prima Facie by Suzie Miller, thrilling novel set in LONDON (Luton and Cambridge University).

 

Prima Facie by Suzie Miller is a brilliant, tense and thrilling novel set in a barrister’s chambers in London. It begins as a privileged insight into a closed world, seen through the eyes of high-flying barrister, Tessa Ensler. She has many achievements, but still sees herself as a former scholarship student from Luton, and still considers herself to be an outsider. This imposter syndrome is very recognisable and many of us will have experienced it at some time. Tessa’s confidence isn’t helped when she remembers being told as a young law student that, statistically, one in three of them won’t make it.

The story is narrated by Tess in alternating chapters, “then” and “now”, which are respectively before and after a critical event. This device allows the author to gradually reveal Tessa’s past as the girl who fought her way from a single-parent home in Luton, to a scholarship place at Cambridge and a successful legal career. We see her fighting on behalf of her clients and the tactics she uses to cast doubt on the prosecution case. She intuitively interprets body language; she is skilled in finding weaknesses in witness statements and she pounces on mistakes in their evidence. We see her satisfaction when she wins and the defendants are freed. For Tessa and her colleagues this is “the game of law”, where right and wrong are almost peripheral to the outcome.

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Tessa sees it as her mission to protect her clients – many of whom she sees as vulnerable – from the police and the prosecution lawyers, with their practised tactics. She draws on her inner strength, but she is unaware that she will need all that, and more, when the worst happens. The tables are turned and now Tessa is fighting for her future, to prosecute the most important case of her life. This is the ultimate irony, and a police officer mocks her, “You need us now, don’t you?”.

Suzie Miller is well-placed, as a scriptwriter and former practising lawyer, to be incisively accurate when writing about the worlds of acting and the law – and to pinpoint where the two worlds collide. Tessa says, “In both places (at work and at home) I must pretend.” Miller has adapted Tessa’s story from her award-winning play, performed at the National Theatre.

I recognise a good book by the way it makes me feel and this was a thrilling and anxiety-inducing read. It exposes the reader to the raw emotion and injustice that is momentous for Tessa, but that countless others face every day. The author ramps up the tension and hangs poor Tessa out to dry. It seems impossible that she can come through the ordeal without losing her most important case ever, as well as her mind and her hard-earned profession. Everything is at stake and she doesn’t know who she can trust. The book explores one woman’s absolute vulnerability and bravery. Again, many women will identify with her situation. When her situation reaches its crisis, she is unable to rely on her own skills and learning. Instead she has to trust to others and the law to bring justice, despite having little remaining faith in either. It leads her to question whether the legal system, and the profession she has worked so hard to be part of, is fit for purpose. A fabulous, unforgettable book.

Sue for the TripFiction Team

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Catch our reviewer Sue on TwitterX @SueKelsoRyan and on IG @SueKelosRyan

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