CRITICAL ACCLAIM for Walden of Bermondsey
No one writes with more wit, warmth and insight about the law and its practitioners than Peter Murphy. He has no equal since the great John 'Rumpole' Mortimer- David Ambrose [read the full review]
No one writes with more wit, warmth and insight about the law and its practitioners than Peter Murphy. He has no equal since the great John Mortimer ("Rumpole") or, even earlier, Henry Cecil ("Brothers In Law"). This collection of stories told through the eyes of a seasoned and long-suffering Crown Court judge are an unputdownable delight.
Though his exasperation is sometimes palpable, what triumphs over everything is his sense of humour. And it is the humour that makes Walden of Bermondsey such a delightful read. Think of him as what Rumpole would be like if he ever became a judge, and you get some idea of his self-deprecating wit and indomitable stoicism. Add a dash of Henry Cecil for his situation and AP Herbert for the fun he has with the law, and you get a sense of his literary precedents.- Paul Magrath [read the full review]
Walden of Bermondsey
By Peter Murphy
Reviewed by Paul Magrath
A ‘TOP JUDGE’ WRITES…
His Honour Judge Walden is the resident judge (RJ) at Bermondsey Crown Court. This means that as well as conducting an unusually interesting variety of cases, he has to manage the court staff and facilities, and juggle the lists to ensure a fair distribution of work to his judicial colleagues – all the while fending off the depredations of the penny-pinching Grey Smoothies from the Ministry of Justice.
Or, as he puts it himself, ‘the RJ’s main role is to be the person to blame whenever something goes wrong.’
Although he benefits from the moral support of his wife, the Reverend Mrs Walden, of whom he is slightly in awe, he is equally concerned not to put a foot wrong in the eyes of the tabloid press: ‘if you do something really stupid,’ he says, ‘you automatically become a “Top Judge”.’
Judge Walden is the comic fictional creation of Peter Murphy, himself a former circuit judge who was once RJ at Peterborough. But I’m willing to bet that none of the cases he tried there in real life was half as interesting or as much fun as the six described in these stories. They deal with a range of crimes, including arson (the burning down of a church), assault (by one election candidate on another), impersonating a solicitor, art fraud, sovereign immunity (by someone claiming to be the king of an uninhabited small island) and the running, above a perfectly respectable restaurant, of a brothel.
Mixed up with each case is another episode in the life of the court staff. This might be the problem of getting the Grey Smoothies to fund a secure dock (to prevent an irate defendant escaping or jumping out and assaulting someone) or persuading them not to shut down the court canteen. Or it might be the entertaining spectacle of a High Court judge, more used to planning or chancery matters, struggling with the evidential complexities of a simple offensive weapon case.
Usually it is these admin matters, rather than the cases themselves, which threaten to spoil the ‘oasis of calm in a world of chaos’ that is the lunch hour in the judicial mess, where Charlie Walden and the other judges sit round an oversized table discussing their cases and picking each other’s brains over sentencing options. They include Judge Rory ‘Legless’ Dunblane, who favours a ‘robust’ approach to sentencing (in spite of whatever the guidelines say); Judge Marjorie Jenkins, a commercial silk ‘supermum’, who has taken up judging by way of a career break; and Judge Hubert Drake, of indeterminate age, who’d rather be dining at the Garrick. As for Walden himself, though he often feels a bit embattled, there are few setbacks that can’t be ameliorated – or triumphs celebrated – by a trip to La Bella Italia for some delicious pasta and a bottle of Chianti shared with his wife.
Through Walden’s eyes, we see the criminal justice system for what it is – a bit of a muddle, and only as good or bad as the humans who do their best to manage it. Yet in spite of all that fate and the Grey Smoothies can throw at him, Judge Walden manages to deliver justice. Though his exasperation is sometimes palpable, what triumphs over everything is his sense of humour. And it is the humour that makes Walden of Bermondsey such a delightful read. Think of him as what Rumpole would be like if he ever became a judge, and you get some idea of his self-deprecating wit and indomitable stoicism. Add a dash of Henry Cecil for his situation and AP Herbert for the fun he has with the law, and you get a sense of his literary precedents. Nevertheless, Walden’s is a unique new voice, which we hope has many more tales to impart, from his busy Bermondsey courtroom.
Each of the six stories in this volume is presented in the form of a diary, written by the judge in the quiet moments of the working day or relaxed evenings at home, over the course of his hearing of a particular case. In one of them he has to direct the jury on whether insults shouted by two parliamentary candidates when resorting to fisticuffs on election night – one calls the other a ‘toffee-nosed, upper class git’, the other retorts with ‘moronic, working class lout’ – mean that their assaults were racially aggravated. Can social class be categorised as membership of a particular racial or religious group? Should he direct the jury on the meaning of the relevant statute? He decides in the end to leave the matter to their common sense.
In another he must consider whether someone who claims to have invaded an unoccupied island in the English Channel, and duly declared himself the king of it, is entitled to plead sovereign immunity against charges of fraud, money laundering and possession of criminal property.
Possibly the most awkward case is the one where Judge Walden is forced into a situation where he must appear to ask an embarrassingly naïve question, purely to ensure that the answer gets on the record. The classic example is the judge who once asked ‘Who are the Beatles?’ and was ‘instantly derided in the press as the typically remote, out of touch and pathetically outdated male all too commonly found on the bench’. Yet he was probably just trying to get the answer on the record.
Fearing that it will lead to a ‘Top Judge’ moment, Walden nevertheless proceeds, as he must, in the interests of justice:
‘Mr Drayford,’ I say, ‘would you care to establish from the Inspector the nature of the item shown in photograph fifteen.’ …
The Inspector makes a pretence of studying it closely.
‘It appears to be a vibrator, your Honour,’ he replies.
He is not going to elaborate without being pushed, so the moment arrives.
‘What is a vibrator?’ I ask.
In September 2013 a judge at Blackfriars Crown Court became internationally famous for his well reasoned and humane judgment on whether or not a defendant wearing the niqaab could give evidence without revealing her face. This was HH Peter Murphy, who shortly afterwards became the resident judge at Peterborough. Already a published thriller writer, his ‘retirement job’ began with a series of atmospheric legal thrillers set in the 1960s. They feature a very sympathetic hero, Ben Schroeder, an east end Jewish boy who makes it at the criminal Bar. Readers have enjoyed following Ben through his career over the following volumes.
With Walden of Bermondsey we are in different territory. Narrated by the resident judge of Bermondsey Crown Court, Charles Walden, it is in effect six short stories about life in a fictional crown court situated in a neighbourhood well known to the author. Charles is able to walk to work as his wife is conveniently the local vicar. Along the way, he buys his latte and sandwiches from a stall run by two salt-of-the-earth women with difficult husbands and grandchildren, and his copy of The Times from a newsagent who monologues about how the Labour Party hasn’t been the same since Hugh Gaitskell.
Charles’s fellow judges are a virile Scot who feels that a punch up followed by a round of pints is all part of a man’s life in rugby; a sensible female commercial Silk and ‘super-mum’ who sits as a crown court judge as a career break; and a Garrick Club bore called Hubert. Lunch with them is ‘an oasis of calm in a desert of chaos.’ The court staff are brilliant. Less agreeable are the ‘Grey Smoothies’ from HMCTS, ie the ghastly young woman and a man who looks 14 years old, who starve the crumbling court of resources.
The stories deal with a range of cases including arson, sovereign immunity and running a brothel upstairs of a posh restaurant. The strength of the book is the picture we get of life in a crown court—not just the trials but the people and the huge amount of legal and personal detail which Peter manages to cram in with great charm. Doing justice has a broad definition. Luckily, information which is not contained in the court papers has a habit of fortuitously coming Charles’s way.
The book cover says: ‘If you enjoyed Rumpole of the Bailey, you’ll love Walden of Bermondsey.’ But there is a difference. Rumpole was a character created by John Mortimer. Charles Walden is a first person narrator resident judge. If he isn’t Peter Murphy, then there is at least no suggestion that we should do anything but approve of everything Charles says and does.
Written robustly but with humanity, we are in no doubt of what Charles thinks of historic sexual offence trials or of parliamentary drafting or of the uselessness of sending former commercial QCs, now High Court trials, to try criminal trials. There is the odd anomaly, when Charles tells his wife: ‘We are not allowed to cross-examine children any more, however many lies they tell.’ Actually, we are.
The language is the language lawyers use between one another (‘Chummy’ for the defendant; ‘Someone may have to stay after school if convicted.’) Characters include a joke Californian and a mad Russian who behave to stereotype. In general the innocent are acquitted and the guilty are convicted. Those who were foolish or who misbehaved do not escape unpunished whether or not they were not the ones in the dock. There is an open attitude to the Bar. One (male) prosecutor wears a suit which is too tight. As an advocate, he ‘may have been around a bit too long’. One robust defender habitually tries to get the witness to usurp the jury’s role and uses cross-examination as another closing speech. She gets away with it, as she knows she will. Generally Charles recognises that counsel have a difficult job to do.
The stories call out for being adapted for TV and with luck that will happen.
David Wurtzel, Counsel
READER REVIEWS FOR WALDEN OF BERMONDSEY
- Cheryl , Cheryl M-M's BookBlog Read More
- Leanna, The Crime Review Read More
- Eva , Novel Deelights Read More
- Kate, Portable Magic Read More
- Susan Hampson, Books From Dusk Till Dawn Read More
- Susan Hampson, Books From Dusk Till Dawn Read More
- Karen Dennis, My Reading Corner Read More
- Chris Roberts, The Crime Review Read More
CRITICAL ACCLAIM for Calling Down the Storm
This latest volume in the life of junior barrister Ben Shroeder, set during the turbulent early 1970s, features a hard-fought custody battle in the divorce courts, a fatal stabbing in the streets of Holborn, drug dealers, loanshark gangsters, dangerous liaisons, and the high life of a swish Mayfair casino—all woven into a tale that begins with a murder mystery and ends with a courtroom drama.
In the pages of this novel, notorious historical figures like Lord Lucan rub shoulders with the complex characters of Murphy’s fictional legal world: the clients and lawyers, the police and expert witnesses, and above all of them, the judge. There is time, too, to discuss the subtleties of psychology and the ethics of legal privilege, in a story in which the patient workings of justice compete with the gathering storm of a bloody tragedy.
Paul Magrath, Barrister
READER REVIEWS FOR CALLING DOWN THE STORM
- Joan Alston, Read More
- thepageturnersbookblog Read More
- Sarah Hardy, By the Letter Book Reviews Read More
- Jo Robertson, MyChestnut Reading Tree Read More
- Cheryl Bellingham, NetGalley Read More
- Leslie Gardner, NetGalley Read More
I loved the flow of the narrative and how one chapter just lead to another…..A good old fashioned legal thriller that we don’t see enough of nowadays! I was sucked into the drama until the final verdict.
- Jo Robertson, MyChestnut Reading Tree Read More
I received this book free from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. Written by Peter Murphy and published by No Exit Press in 2017, this starts out looking like a traditional British police procedural, but that changes quickly. The story begins with the stabbing, in the middle of the day and on a public street, of an estranged wife by her husband. It then quickly morphs into a description of the private life of a barrister who wears silk (Queen’s Counsel — QC), and who develops a serious gambling problem before becoming a judge who will eventually preside in the trial of the accused husband. A third minor thread deals with the barristers who will handle both sides of the murder case.
The setting is London in 1971. The author goes into a great amount of detail regarding the gambling habits and sex life of the QC who later becomes a judge, and the story’s dialogues are accurate depictions of the way lawyers speak — especially in courtrooms. English speakers who reside in any one of the countries that share the British legal system will probably have no trouble following the story line, but Americans might not find it so easy. Barristers and solicitors might be unfamiliar to Americans, but not to anybody acquainted with the British legal system. This isn’t the place for a lesson on the subject, but a simplistic explanation for Americans might be that barristers are akin to trial lawyers in the United States, and solicitors are like lawyers who practice law and deal with clients, but do not present cases in courtrooms. The role of barristers in the UK has changed, and this is probably why the author set the book in 1971.
Mr. Murphy did his research well. The gambling game that gets the judge into trouble (Chemin de Fer) is presented accurately, as is the real Clermont Club where the gambling takes place. There really is a Clermont Club in London, and the author actually visited it while writing the book. There really is a game called Chemin de Fer, and it is the forerunner of the game we now call Baccarat. The dialogue and events described in the book are very detailed and realistic.
The three major plot lines come together seamlessly before the end of the book, and the author is careful to tie up loose ends. The ending will come as a surprise to many. It did to me. On the negative side, there was a bit too much unnecessary detail that could certainly have been omitted without detracting from the story. Some of the dialog is repetitious. Some of the details of the judge’s sexcapades could have been omitted without seriously detracting from the story. All in all, however, I very much enjoyed the book and would recommend to anybody who might like a realistic British legal story with a touch of murder.
- Richard Clemmons, NetGalley Read More
- Roy Brocklebank, Amazon Read More
- Sue Wallace, NetGalley Read More
- Karen L-J, NetGalley Read More
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- Wallace Leicester , NetGalley Read More
CRITICAL ACCLAIM for The Heirs of Owain Glyndŵr
The story illustrates and discusses effectively questions of nationalism and national identity. It is to the author's credit that this fiction sometimes reads and feels like a dramatic re-telling of a real event- Jim Beaman, Crime Review [read the full review]
I have always enjoyed John Grisham over many years, but your stories bring the court room really to life.
READER REVIEWS FOR THE HEIRS OF OWAIN GLYNDŵR
- C. Thompson, Read More
- Jo Kirk, Real Readers Read More
- Jan Kirk, Real Readers Read More
- Ray Taylor, Real Readers Read More
- Katheryn Thomas , Real Readers Read More
- Jane Gilman, Real Readers Read More
CRITICAL ACCLAIM for And Is There Honey Still For Tea?
An intelligent amalgam of spy story and legal drama- Marcel Berlins, Times [read the full review]
An intelligent amalgam of spy story and legal drama, And Is There Honey Still For Tea? takes place in 1965, at the height of the Cold War. An American academic has published a provocative article claiming that Sir James Digby, QC, a respected English barrister, had spied for Russia. Digby sues for libel. The two teams of lawyers prepare for the contest in court. Peter Murphy's regular hero, Ben Schroeder, is the junior barrister for Digby. Victory seems inevitable, but doubts start to emerge. The game of chess becomes important. Murphy was an advocate in war crime cases in the Hague involving the former Yugoslavia, and is now a judge in England. His pedigree shows.
Marcel Berlins, Times
A gripping, enjoyable and informative read...Promoting Crime Fiction loves Peter Murphy's And is there Honey Still for Tea?- Jo Hesslewood, Promoting Crime Fiction [read the full review]
Murphy's clever legal thriller revels in the chicanery of the English law courts of the period- Barry Forshaw, The Independent [read the full review]
The ability of an author to create living characters is always dependent on his knowledge of what they would do and say in any given circumstances - a talent that Peter Murphy possesses in abundance...Arnold Taylor loves And Is There Honey Still for Tea?- Arnold Taylor, Crime Review UK [read the full review]
There’s tradecraft of the John le Carre kind, but also a steely authenticity in the legal scenes... gripping- Paul Magrath, ICLR [read the full review]
READER REVIEWS FOR AND IS THERE HONEY STILL FOR TEA?
Your style in these pages deeply moved me. And I loved the elegant way you found to explain the title of the book. A book that one finishes with a sense of nostalgia the last page turned. Quoi ! Déjà fini ! A decisively rare kind ....So, thank you very much for "And is There Honey Still For Tea?"
- Raphaël Weissmann, Judge, Read More
CRITICAL ACCLAIM for A Matter for the Jury
In A Higher Duty Peter Murphy wrote more about the barristers themselves. Here the spotlight is on the defendants, the witnesses, the judges, and even the hangman since this is 1964 and capital murder means what it says.- David Wurtzel, Counsel Magazine [read the full review]
You have ruined the Lincolnshire Poacher for me in the same way Reservoir Dogs ruined Stuck in the Middle with You- Irene
An utterly compelling and harrowing tale of life and death- David Ambrose [read the full review]
An utterly compelling and harrowing tale of life and death. With an insider's insight Peter Murphy has recreated the intensity and drama of a capital murder trial in the early 1960's. He has dropped Ben Schroeder into a legal nightmare as he fights to save a client's life with both the law and the facts against him. This sequel to A Higher Duty is that rare thing, a genuinely good read.
One of the subplots ... delivers a huge and unexpected twist towards the end of the novel, for which I was totally unprepared- Helen Walters, Fiction Is Stranger Than Fact [read the full review]
CRITICAL ACCLAIM for Test of Resolve
Peter Murphy presents us with a truly original premise and a set of intriguing characters then ramps up the pressure on them all. Test of Resolve is an aptly named, compelling read with a nail biting conclusion- Howard Linskey
READER REVIEWS FOR TEST OF RESOLVE
- Caroles Book Corner Read More
CRITICAL ACCLAIM for A Higher Duty
Racy legal thrillers lift the lid on sex and racial prejudice at the bar- Hugh Muir, Guardian [read the full review]
If anyone's looking for the next big courtroom drama... look no further. Murphy is your man.- Paul Magrath, The Incorporated Council of Law Reporting Blog [read the full review]
Peter Murphy’s novel is an excellent read from start to finish and highly recommended.- Historical Novel Review [read the full review]
I have vivid and resentful memories of applying to be taken on as a barrister's pupil at a time before the equal opportunities legislation of the mid-1970s, when the reponse could legally and shamelessly be 'we don't take women' (or Jews, or non-white people). So I was fascinated by this novel, which is set in the 1960s and focuses on the rivalry between several barristers and two bright pupils, a Jewish man and a young woman. The crime concerned is not a murder, and the story is set so firmly in the arcane world of London chambers that the book is not likely to be a popular read. That's a pity, because it's engrossing to follow the machinations of insiders as they suppress potential scandals. One senior lawyer explains his duty to maintain the status quo at all costs, even if it means breaking the law: 'I take such steps as I have to.' Half a century on, women, Jews, the working classes and other former outsiders are allowed to join in, and to a certain extent they have brought daylight with them. Murphy describes an exclusive society that has disappeared. Good riddance.
Jessica Mann, Literary Review
An absorbing read, and one which will make you think, and consider yourself fortunate to be living in a world which has moved on.- Lynne Patrick, Mystery People [read the full review]
A trend seems to have arisen for classifying novels as crime/mystery/thriller when they have only the most slender claim to the label. A Higher Duty has a legal background, and someone dies in dubious circumstances in the opening chapter, so perhaps its claim is slightly stronger than some; but the background is largely family law, and the death requires no investigation. Instead, the real crime in this thoughtful, vividly evoked story is an ongoing one, committed for centuries against most of the population by a small but powerful section of it. Set in the early 1960s, it explores a darker side of the legal system in which the class system was exploited, minorities were regarded as ‘not our sort’, and women, however able, were dismissed as of no account because of their inconvenient habit of bringing the next generation into existence. Several loosely connected story strands come together to form the kind of neat conclusion in which justice is done after a fashion: probably the best that could have been achieved at the time, but still inclined to make a 21st century reader either blink with surprise or grind his/her teeth, depending on gender and how many of the intervening decades and social changes s/he has lived through. The phrase ‘persons of no significance’ crops up uncomfortably often: a strong indication that half a century ago attitudes and behaviour were very different. Murphy succeeds in portraying them with a light, deft touch which avoids the ‘preachy’ pitfall some authors fall into when reconstructing a past which is well within living memory. He makes a jolly good fist of recreating the social background which defined that era, and he does it in a highly readable way, using the old-fashioned device of good storytelling: creating a believable situation and engaging, rounded characters who draw the reader in and makes him/her care what happens to them. Some of them are likeable, others less so, but there is no black and white, no good guy required to triumph or bad one who has to get his comeuppance. The ending is tidy, and probably inevitable, though whether it makes for the kind of satisfying denouement aficionados of crime fiction expect is open for debate. But it is an absorbing read, and one which will make you think, and consider yourself fortunate to be living in a world which has moved on.
Lynne Patrick, Mystery People
This beautifully written book had me captivated from start to finish- Old Dogs, New Tricks [read the full review]
A gripping page-turner. A compelling and disturbing tale of English law courts, lawyers, and their clients, told with the authenticity that only an insider like Murphy can deliver. The best read I've come across in a long time."- David Ambrose
READER REVIEWS FOR A HIGHER DUTY
I couldn’t wait to read the end of this book
- Eventfulfire, amazon.co.uk Read More
an absorbing insight into the world of Barristers, Lawyers, the Law and the games they play
- C. Colbert, amazon.co.uk Read More
so well written and so intriguing that I could not put it down
- Joan Alston, amazon.co.uk Read More
an insight into how the legal system and the world of judges, lawyers and solicitors operated in the 1960's
- poppyash, Waterstones Read More
- M Taylor, amazon.co.uk Read More
CRITICAL ACCLAIM for Removal
Removal is a compelling story of power and intrigue at the highest levels. A political thriller that knows its way around the corridors of power and exposes the secrets behind the headlines, it is as convincing as it is frightening. An unputdownable read.- David Ambrose, novelist, playwright
A brilliant thriller by a striking new talent. Murphy cracks open the US Constitution like a walnut. This is Seven Days in May for the 21st Century.- Clem Chambers, author of the Jim Evans thriller series
Peter Murphy's debut Removal introduces an exciting talent in the thriller genre. Murphy skilfully builds tension in sharp prose. When murder threatens the security of the most powerful nation in the world, the stakes are high!- Leigh Russell, author of the Geraldine Steel mystery series
READER REVIEWS FOR REMOVAL
one of the best books I have read in years
- Joan Alston, Read More
Peter Murphy has a real winner here
- Barbara Sepenuk, Read More
The action and characters developed beautifully.
- Nancy Hollander, Read More
It hooked me from the prologue and I have had a hard time putting it down.
- Mark C. Yungbluth, Read More
Move over John Grisham and Scott Turow. Murphy has written a law based page-turner that will rivet you until the end. Five stars!
- RLD, Read More