Silence in court: a suicidal goose

THE ADVOCATE'S DEVIL Alan M Dershowitz Headline £16.99
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Alan Dershowitz is many things. He is the lawyer who represented Mike Tyson and Claus von Blow. He now sits on the O J Simpson defence team, "sits" being the operative word thus far. He is also the Felix Frankfurter Professor at Harvard Law School. Hot Dog! But is he a novelist? The blurb is perfectly clear on this matter: "The Advocate's Devil is Mr Dershowitz's first novel." Well, yes and no.

On second thoughts, no and no. There is a plot, of sorts: white basketball hero Joe Campbell is hauled up on a rape charge, rumpled yet brilliant Abe Ringel is hired to get him off. But the tale tumbles along such predictable paths that after 50 pages you find yourself leafing to the end, just to check that everything turns out precisely as expected. And, indeed, Dershowitz the storyteller and Joe the sexual carnivore seem to be suffering from the same problem with their climaxes. But the failure goes further than that: you really can't hope to write a legal thriller if the thrills are no more than an excuse for a law lecture. I began to feel sorry for the poor old narrative as it lay there, slight and sickly, with a great lump of jurisprudence and technical flummery on top of it.

" `So you think that the law permits or even requires you to put Campbell on the stand so long as you don't knowingly elicit false answers on direct examination, even though you believe that the prosecutor will elicit false answers from him on cross-examination?'

" `Yes, if it would help Campbell win. That's what I think unless and until you can show me otherwise.' "

Ah, listen to it: the language of the streets, blood-hot America brought squalling to life. Tell me, Ladies and gentleman of the jury: does this stuff sound like fiction to you?

Still, I wouldn't have missed it for the world. The Advocate's Devil is a kind of masterclass in how to screw up the art of the novel, and some of Dershowitz's loony fugues are a joy. His endearing efforts to avoid a roman clef, for instance, get absolutely nowhere; take Abe, with "his nearly twenty years as an attorney, his reputation as a raconteur, and his speaking tours around the globe . . . perceptive, direct, proactive and right". Hmmm, sounds familiar. But then everyone in the book tends to contemplate the world with Dershowitzish precision: "Jennifer assessed the group of women as having a median age of twenty-five." Median? Everyone in this book is propping up the bar chart; nobody is imperceptive, indirect, reactive or wrong. No one is lazily real, in other words, a state of affairs made worse by scattershot grammar. "Even now, in her late fifties and twenty years after forsaking the veil, Abe thought she still looked like a nun." Wow, I said to myself. Abe is a cross-dressing ex-convent perv! The guy has depths after all! Sadly, he's thinking about the trial judge, Marie Gambi, although you'd never know it.

But like Ms Gambi, we need to be fair. Just because The Advocate's Devil has no suspense, no bearable dialogue and nothing fresh to say about politics, there's no reason to convict it out of hand. For one thing, no other work of recent years has been so acute on the habits of the Canadian goose. "One of the big black birds had become entranced by its own reflection", we learn, "and dive-bombed hara-kiri-style into the living room window". Do geese really carry curved ceremonial swords around in mid-flight? I think the word Mr Dershowitz is groping for here is "kami-kaze". Nice try, Alan. Guilty.