Written by Charles Courtley — Writing under the nom de plume Charles Courtley, retired barrister and judge advocate Robert Seymour took his first steps in crime fiction with Wig Begone back in 2009. There, newly qualified barrister Charles Courtley began working in the criminal courts and the court martial system.
Wig Betrayed rejoins Charles in the college classroom where he now teaches. His students, having discovered his past history as a military judge, are keen to learn more about his experiences. Cue a flashback…
Written in the first person, the book transports you back to Charles’ life in Germany. It’s a life that he struggles to adapt to and a court system that operates under a set of rules he isn’t quite prepared for. Added to which, he’s had to leave his wife back in the UK while suitable married quarters are arranged. Once settled, the couple find that even for civilians, life on a military base can be extremely regimented. The decisions that a military judge makes can affect his life outside the courtroom.
The crux of this tale is a pair of cases Charles is involved with. The first is a potential miscarriage of justice that he decides to investigate when he finds a British WWII medal at a flea market. The second involves the conviction of a well-liked soldier, and the reactions of those around him. Bored with life on the base, Charles’ wife decamps back to the UK leaving him to deal with the hostility of his colleagues alone. Then a chance meeting with a young German woman sees him forming an unlikely attachment, which ends badly, and leaves Charles wracked with guilt and in a prison cell. Can the people who know him best stop him from being convicted of a crime he didn’t commit?
There’s a slight whiff of John Mortimer’s Horace Rumpole about Charles Courtley. He doesn’t conform to regulations all that easily and on a brief sojourn back to Blighty, he seems far more at home dealing with the cases that are brought before him in magistrates’ court.
Wig Betrayed is a book that may leave you with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’s an entertaining read though perhaps the most satisfying. It seems to fall a tad short on the features that initially make it attractive. Courtroom dramas can be thrilling – two advocates duelling over the evidence in a case with the final reveal coming when the judge delivers the verdict. The fact that Wig Betrayed focuses on the military court system sounds positively intriguing, and what better protagonist than a newly appointed military judge? Seeing Charles navigate his way through this new alien environment is entertaining in places, but the humorous Rumpole-style moments never really develop enough.
This is very much Charles’ story – his determination to see justice done, his difficulties in adapting to a new legal system, and the devastation he feels when his marriage falls apart under the strain of living on a regimented army base where his civilian life is left at the main gates. However, with the emphasis being more on Charles than the courtroom, readers who were hoping for a military Perry Mason-style drama may be a little disappointed.
Where it does pick up is the side story of an old soldier who was the victim of a miscarriage of justice, and Charles’ determination to right this wrong. This is a point at which you’ll be willing him to succeed. The final curveball Wig Betrayed throws is something of a Marmite moment. You’ll either like the twist that sees Charles behind bars or be totally frustrated by what seems to be his need to put himself on trial and find himself wanting.
At 212 pages, Wig Betrayed is a read that will keep you entertained on your commute to work. However, it’s appeal is probably more directed to the crime fiction fan who likes the drama of the courtroom, but is looking for something a little different.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars