This is the true crime account of Eugenia Falleni, a woman who in 1920 was charged with the murder of her wife. Eugenia had lived in Australia for twenty-two years as a man and during that time officially married twice. She lived a full married life with her first wife, Annie, for four years before Annie realised that her husband was a woman. Even after Annie knew, they lived together for eight months before they went on a bush picnic, when Annie mysteriously died. Her body was not identified for almost three years, and during this time Eugenia married again, this time to Lizzie.
I really think that whenever I feel like a bit of a whinge about the way life is these days, I should read a book like EUGENIA. Eugenia Falleni was a woman born into a large Italian Family, who grew up in New Zealand, and spent most of her all too short life in Australia, living most of it as a man.
Mark Tedeschi QC looks at what happened to Eugenia in her early life, a rape and subsequent birth of a daughter which complicated her life even more, how she functioned in day-to-day life, her first marriage and the death of her wife for which she was charged with murder, along with a second marriage and life post trial and time in jail.
Whilst the book is written by a lawyer, and looks closely at the rights, wrong and inadequacies of the trial and sentencing that she endured, it's not just about the legal. Tedeschi considers many of the elements that made up Falleni's difficult and tragic life, considering the question of her gender dysmorphia, and how she kept it a secret, particularly, it seems in the case of two marriages to women. Although her first wife, Annie Birkett, had finally discovered the truth, her second wife Lizzie Crawford refused to acknowledge that her husband, was in fact, a woman, even after police and had arrested Falleni, and doctors had examined her and declared the obvious.
It's impossible to read EUGENIA and not have sympathy for a woman who, may or may not have committed murder, although the book's conclusion is that her defence could have argued accidental / manslaughter. It's impossible not to consider how incredibly difficult, confronting and complicated her life must have been with such an obvious case of gender dysmorphia. Despite even the worst of idiocy about such issues in current day society, at the very least you'd hope there would be some support, understanding, and friendship somewhere. Alas for Falleni she was the target of ridicule and disrespect from everywhere. She was subjected to the worst sexual violence, attacked by the press, treated like a freak by the public and let down badly by her defence. Although there was finally kindness in jail, it was a bit of a kick in the teeth to find out that even her death was an absolute, flat out, utter and complete tragedy.
I'd never heard of Eugenia Falleni before I read a short story in a true crime collection a while ago, so I'm really grateful that Tedeschi took the time to delve, consider and write this book. Eugenia Falleni deserves it.
THE PARIS LAWYER - Sylvie Granotier
As a child, Catherine Monsigny was the only witness to her mother's death. 20 years later as an ambitious attorney in contemporary Paris, she catches a professional break when her boss assigns her to major felony case in rural France. An immigrant stands accused of poisoning her husband, but her secrets are not the only ones hidden in the scenic rolling hills of Creuse. While preparing the defence, Catherine is reunited with images of own past and a high-intensity search for two murderers ensues. Who can she believe? And what will Catherine do with her past should she discover it?
It is always a pleasure to come across publishers who are bringing works from different cultures to the English-reading world, particularly when there is such a strong sense of place in the books I've been lucky enough to read from Le French Book (http://lefrenchbook.com/). THE PARIS LAWYER has a particular French sensibility, combined with a clever take on lawyer based crime fiction.
The Parisian Lawyer is Catherine Monsigny, a young lawyer whose earliest memories are fleeting glimpses of the day that her mother was murdered. Her debut criminal trial involves an enigmatic immigrant, accused of murder, a defence harder to build because this person seems to have come from nowhere. Called out of Paris to assist her client, the case triggers Monsigny to confront her own history. Along the way she develops a relationship with a strange man who may have an ulterior motive for his pursuit of her.
One of the most interesting aspects of THE PARIS LAWYER is how what starts of as a slightly meandering, low key sort of a story, builds into something that becomes extremely involving. It's almost sneaky how the combination of an isolated location, a man with a secret and a central character with a confronting past, all combine as Monsigny's investigation into her own background and the defence of the murder accused, twist and turn together. The story deftly balances the idea of a lawyer, trial based book; with many of the aspects of a psychological thriller.
Whilst much of the standard formula of a psychological thriller is twisted on its head early in the book, and Monsigny's reveals her insecurity, there is a further twist that may or may not work for many readers. At some point in the search for the murderer of her mother, Monsigny becomes even more preoccupied with what the mother she never had a chance to know was really like, and hence who she is herself. At that point the book becomes increasingly less about the who and more about the why. What is driving many of the central characters, why they do what they do, and who they really are. For this reader it added an extra layer, and there was absolutely no reason not to follow where the author was leading.
The only other problem is likely to be in the way that many of the plot elements are left unresolved at the end of the book. Not necessarily a bad thing, unless that lack has no apparent reason. Be it to allow the reader some thinking material, or because everything in life is not automatically wrapped up neatly, unresolved elements aren't automatically an issue as far as this reader is concerned. Unfortunately here, some of the elements left hanging at the end of THE PARIS LAWYER didn't leave a question to consider, instead they contributed to the feeling of a bit of a mad scramble to the end.
Fortunately these minor problems did not lessen any enjoyment of THE PARIS LAWYER at all. It is a refreshing, different, challenging approach to some standard and not so standard crime fiction norms.
HARRY CURRY COUNSEL OF CHOICE - Stuart Littlemore
Ugly. Irascible. Intolerant. Clever.
From one of our sharpest legal minds comes a brilliant new character, Harry Curry--scion of the establishment and criminal defender extraordinaire. A class traitor, some say.
There's increasing signs of "write what you know" in Australian crime fiction, so it's probably not at all surprising that well known QC, and media commentator Stuart Littlemore has followed exactly that path. Although, to be honest, I'm not sure I agree 100% with labelling HARRY CURRY: COUNSEL OF CHOICE as crime fiction. Whilst the idea is definitely that our hero, Harry Curry, is a criminal defence lawyer, this book is less about the crimes and a lot more about the exploits of Curry in getting all and sundry off, each and every charge thrown at them.
HARRY CURRY etc is a series of 5 short stories, during which the reader learns that Curry is one of the sharpest legal minds ever to grace the NSW bar. He's also ugly, irascible and irresistibly attractive to a young female barrister. He's exactly what you would expect from a swashbuckling, devil-may-care, legal warrior - irreverent, intolerant, touchy, absolutely and utterly assured of his own invincibility. A brilliant tactician, at loggerheads with legal seniority, Curry is no friend of the judiciary. The book opens with Curry defending himself against allegations that he's sworn at a learned judge during a case and moves onto him fostering the young, beautiful Arabella Engineer, English barrister, Indian beauty, she of the hopeless infatuation with Curry, whilst he awaits the return of his practising certificate. Acting on his own behalf, or as the tactician behind Engineer's scenes, Harry Curry is unbeatable in the court, and resistant to everything Arabella can throw at him... at least for a while.
Needless to say - we're talking, one hopes, just a little bit tongue in cheek here. Although there was a time when I wasn't sure whether that was the case - there are points where, even when you know the lawyer is always going to win the case in this book, you just wouldn't mind a little something to go slightly wrong .... just to make Curry hover down here a little closer to the heads of we mere mortals. Perhaps that's the only minor quibble - Harry Curry - scion of the establishment, class traitor - starts out with some real potential for a bit of stereotype smashing. A little dancing on the lower side if you will. But for all his supposed fall from grace, even allowing for the old Jag he's driving unknown to it's owner, banged up as he is in jail, somehow Curry doesn't really seem to have sunk that low. Maybe his home location doesn't quite telegraph a dramatic step away from the privileged background for those from other States.
Curry is undoubtedly no Rumpole, and it's unlikely that the case of The Live Dead Man will ever quite scale the heights of infamy of the Penge Bungalow Murders, but for what it is - a series of legal tall tales, HARRY CURRY: COUNSEL OF CHOICE is a gently amusing little wander around in the far end of crime process. I think I heard that a second book is in the pipeline - it will be interesting to see where Littlemore heads Harry Curry.
RUMPOLE AND THE REIGN OF TERROR - John Mortimer
Justice isn't blind - it's just a little short sighted and weak around the knees ...
His wig may be yellowing and his gown might be in tatters, but Rumpole will not give up the good fight - now while there's injustice to battle.
When a distressed Tiffany Timson (of the infamous South London clan of petty criminals) tearfully explains that her husband Dr Khan has been arrested on suspicion of terrorism, Rumpole knows that to take on this case will mean not just defending one man, but squaring up to the very notion of modern British justice.
Hilda is writing her memoir, so it's probably just as well that Rumpole doesn't know what she is doing locked away in the boxroom for hours on end. But Rumpole is very busy telling his own story of how he nearly lost his livelihood (aka the Timson family clan), and found himself involved in the new world of Terrorism trials.
Despite being extremely concerned about the wherewithal to support both the ongoing requirement for furniture police, Fairy Liquid, scrubbing brushes and Vim alongside his own meagre indulgences in Chateau Thames, Rumpole's sense of justice is outraged by the plight of his client. Dr Mahmood Khan (estranged son-in-law of one of the Timson's) is being held on terrorism charges without the benefit of the details of the crimes with which he has been charged. Rumpole is not at all best pleased by these new terrorism laws, particularly the secrecy aspects and whilst he battles the impossible situation, he is also cunning enough to find a loophole and get his client a proper public trial.
Whilst RUMPOLE AND THE REIGN OF TERROR is wonderfully entertaining, and extremely amusing, it also touches on some important Justice issues. Rumpole is fighting the good fight against unfair laws and unreasonable judges. He's also quite prepared to take on anyone in the prosecution - representation or witnesses. For all his bumbling and slightly scruffy regalia, Rumpole has a fine legal mind and he upholds the British Justice System that believes that everyone is entitled to a robust defence - regardless of whether their defending barrister believes in their innocence or guilt.
The book is an interesting little outing with Rumpole. Written in a semi-autobiographical style, the story of Rumpole's trial is interspersed with snippets of Hilda's memoir. This gives the book a rather unexpected sort of feel, probably because in the past most of what you hear from Hilda is short, sharp and frequently quite despairing of Rumpole's latest activities. There's still quite a bit of that in Hilda's reminiscences, but there's also reflections on married life, friends and quite oddly, her friendship with (well sort of courtship by) Mr Justice Leonard Bullingham (aka Mad Bull).
Giving Hilda a voice adds a little to the bulk of the book, but doesn't really distract from Rumpole in all his glory. Full of mumblings, mutterings, and clever contortions, this is Rumple at his most entertaining, telling a tale which actually has some important points to make.