Category: Courtroom Drama, Legal Thriller, Book Review
Maria is on trial for attempted murder.
She has confessed to the crime and wanted her husband dead.
Lottie is on the jury, trying to decide her fate.
She embarks on an illicit affair with a stranger, and her husband can never find out.
You will think you know who is guilty and who is innocent.
You will be wrong.
If ever there was a hook into a story, this is one for sure. Edward Bloxham is lying on the kitchen floor in a pool of blood.
His wife, Maria, is standing looking down at his body with the weapon in her hands. Then she calmly phones the police and admits to killing her husband. Only she hasn’t killed him. Edward is clinging on to life despite the terrible injury. Maria is charged with attempted murder.
It’s soon apparent that Edward Bloxham was a domineering husband who had more or less cut Maria off from the outside world. Does that warrant attempted murder? The jury are given the facts but what about the underlying reality? How do twelve people decide the fate of another when there are two sides to the story—the defence and the prosecution with their differing interpretations of events and each bent on winning the case regardless. Is it possible to stay open minded and not make assumptions or judge by appearances? It made me realise how much I would hate to have to try and decide someone’s fate.
In spite of the high-sided glass of the dock and the wall behind her, Maria could almost hear the jury foreperson as she mouthed a single word, ’Shame’. Just like that they had convicted her. It hadn’t required the chair leg, the brain damage or the blood on Maria’s hands.
Lottie Hiraj, one of the twelve, is a young mother and homemaker who feels her marriage has lost its lustre and the glimpses of her life away from the courtroom tell their own story. She’s drawn to one of the other jurors who has a compelling personality when it suits but is working to his own agenda. There’s a good cross section of the public on the jury, so quite a cast of characters, some more at the forefront than others, but not that many to cause confusion.
Degrees of Guilt is a twisty, well constructed and complex courtroom drama, unravelling Maria’s story throughout the trial, testing the reader along with the jury. Learning what Maria endured I couldn’t bring myself to blame her…but there was the fact that she was lying about certain things we didn’t know about to consider. Even so, the slowly revealing details of Maria’s life made chilling reading. Nothing much is held back about the dreadful things that could happen in a coercive control relationship, with some disturbingly graphic scenes.
I love a good legal thriller and this delivered on all counts. It’s very thought provoking, the suspense was kept high and shifts in narrative between Maria and Lottie meant the story moved at a pace, with several unexpected twists. A compellingly credible and very well written story.
A former barrister, HS Chandler practised for thirteen years in both family and criminal law. Having extensively prosecuted and defended, she is an avid believer in the right to a fair trial, and in the invaluable role that juries play in the British legal system.