From the desk of Sophia Rose:
Crusaders come in all shapes and forms and some don’t even realize they are such a person until they face down injustice at the expense of reputation, career, and even life to see a wrong is righted. The Barrister and the Letter of Marque by Todd M. Johnson, a historical mystery that balances Regency backdrop with legal thriller, contains a crusader that captivated me from page one.
A Regency period barrister, William Snopes, who champions the commoner in his clever and cunning way finds himself faced with a conundrum. Does he take a case that goes against his principle of never representing someone from the upper classes and particularly a case that has far reaching ramifications for all involved or tell the desperate woman, Lady Madeleine, he cannot?
To help make up his mind, he has his well-trained, staunch junior barrister, Edmund, his solicitor, and other reliable sources help him determine if the lady is telling the truth about her cousin, his ship, his crew, and goods being seized by the Crown for piracy because the Letter of Marque he was carrying
has disappeared. No reports in the newspapers, no stirring in the legal community, and certainly no hint of the other mysterious backers of the ship have surfaced, but slowly he discovers that Madeleine is telling the truth and someone in great power doesn’t want any of it to come out even as they are prepared for a captain and crew and maybe Madeleine and her father to take the fall.
Madeleine has staked everything on this shipping venture and owes loans to some dangerous people even an American smuggler who, along with the greedy family lawyer, want their money. Her father’s mind is gone, the family estate is in shambles, and every friend, it seems, has turned their back on her. In desperation, she turns to a ‘blood-sucking’ lawyer to help her cousin survive the hangman’s noose and for her and her father not to be left destitute. Slowly, she realizes William is unlike any barrister she has heard of and he might be the only one who can fight in spite of all the disappearing evidence and witnesses while taking pressure from the judge, the prosecutor, unknown adversaries, and society itself for pursuing the case. The threats grow more dangerous. Many lives are at stake and the corruption behind the situation comes from powerful sources who can’t afford for the truth to get out.
I’ve always been fond of underdog characters and historical mysteries that include courtroom drama. This one got pretty dire for those on the side of good and there was a formidable group of villains ranged against them. The camaraderie among William and his investigation team was a great additional element.
The Barrister and the Letter of Marque starts slow as it introduces the characters, the world, and the mystery, but then it gains steady momentum until near the end when the pace is feverish and the suspense is ratcheted up pretty tight. This was not a mystery where the perpetrators and their motives were hidden so much as it was how to thwart the villains’ conniving, well-laid plans and powerful resources. Though, that said, there are surprise twists including a big one in the end to liven up the tale.
The author did a sensational job developing the character of William who is at the center of it all. Madeline and the others including some of the villains, as well, are deftly drawn and with depth so character, motives, and emotions give layers to the story. I enjoyed getting to know and spending time with these characters and would happily see them return in a series.
The historical background and setting of post Napoleonic War Regency England was brought to rich, colorful life. The author made London and, particularly the dockside and East End, a sensual experience so that dark dank alleys, smoky aromatic Wharfside pubs, trading ships, and even Madeleine’s crumbling, impoverished estate easy to imagine. It was obvious the author did his homework on the era and also infused the story with his own legal expertise so that William, descriptions of his work, and the courtroom drama all rang true.
To wrap it up, I was well-enamored with The Barrister and the Letter of Marque. It hit all the right notes leaving me satiated but yearning for more mysteries and courtroom battles for William and his friends to solve. Though not gritty, the book isn’t exactly light and cozy either so it would appeal to anyone from historical cozy to mild historical thriller fans.
5 out of 5 Stars
- The Barrister and the Letter of Marque: A Novel, by Todd M. Johnson
- Bethany House Publishers (August 3, 2021)
- Hardcover, paperback, eBook, & audiobook (416) pages
- ISBN: 978-0764239137
We received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Book cover courtesy of Bethany House Publishers © 2021; text Sophia Rose © 2021, Austenprose.com