From a suicide mystery to family troubles, Camilla Macpherson reviews the latest offerings

Waking the dead

The ghosts of Reginald Hine
by Richard Whitmore

Mattingley Press, £20

The Ghosts of Reginald Hine recalls the halcyon days of a life in the law now gone for good, when a solicitor could take 30 years to qualify and then leap-frog straight to partner, and be paid a full salary throughout even though he spent more time hidden in the archives reading history than drafting contracts. Yet Reginald Hine, the solicitor in question and the subject of this biography, committed suicide in his mid-60s by jumping in front of a train.

This book, written by a former BBC newsreader, explores the reasons behind his unexpected death as well as telling the story of his rather unusual life.

Hine was born in 1883 and practised in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, from the 1920s until his death in 1949. When he was not dealing with local legal matters, he was writing an elaborate set of histories of Hertfordshire. He also wrote Confessions of an Un-Common Attorney, a frank memoir that became a best-seller across the world and was sufficiently indiscreet about his client base to lead to at least one suit for defamation. It was also the first book ever reviewed by the Gazette.

His literary pursuits were no doubt one reason why it took him so long to get round to doing his Law Society finals, but it is also clear that he never relished professional life, being virtually driven out of one law firm, struggling as a partner in another and, towards the end of his life, taking to hiding under his desk from difficult clients.

Yet it may be he was more concerned about his career as a solicitor than he cared to let on. Reported to the Law Society for professional negligence after proposing to work for both parties in a divorce case, he may have been en route to a hearing before the disciplinary committee when he jumped in front of a train steaming into Hitchin station.

Hine’s suicide is less surprising when set in the context of a long history of mental illness. His home life was also troubled, his relationship with his wife difficult and his nights spent more on writing history than sleeping.

Meticulously researched over several years, this book is an interesting overview of Hine’s life, for all that it strays somewhat into whimsy at times. It also leaves some questions unanswered – Hine’s suicide letter was not read out by the coroner in court and has long since been lost, so the reasons given for his death remain supposition.

Despite lingering doubts as to whether this was a man who really merited a biography, for Hertfordshire residents with an interest in local history or the law, this is an intriguing book.

l The book is available from Eric T Moore Books in Hitchin. Tel: 01462 450497; email:

Camilla Macpherson is an associate at Allen & Overy

The original Gazette review from March 1945:

Few lawyers will read Reginald L Hine’s Confessions of an Un-Common Attorney without deep interest. The author, an antiquary of distinction, had the good fortune in his early years to join one of the oldest firms of solicitors in the country, Hawkins & Co, of Hitchen, who were established in 1591.

Their records and associations, deep-rooted in the past, and his own wide contacts with humanity, have proved a fruitful field for Mr Hine, who discourses upon them all with charm and learning. Lifelong addiction to a Commonplace Book [a form of personal scrapbook] has provided him with a rich store of apt and quaint quotations, out of the way scraps of knowledge and similar gleanings.

These are employed with prodigality in the decoration of his pages, which are, indeed, stuffed full, like a pudding, with these literary plums. But the plums of this pudding are excellent and we most heartily commend the suet which holds them together.

Confronting a troubled past

A time to tell

by Maria Savva

Pen Press, £7.99

Solicitor Maria Savva’s book centres on Cara, whose failed suicide attempt at the age of 18 following a thwarted love affair leads her into a hasty marriage with the dependable Billy, but leaves a question mark hanging over the paternity of her first son Benjamin that dogs him throughout his life.

Now elderly, Cara goes to live with her grand-daughter Penny, who is suffering at the hands of her violent husband just as, it turns out, her mother suffered at the hands of Benjamin. Penny’s decision to leave her husband precipitates the action for the rest of the book, as Cara finds that the only person now prepared to take her in is the sister she fell out with decades before. It is not long before family skeletons start falling out of the cupboards and Cara is forced to confront her troubled relationship with her son as well as make amends with her former lover.

Overall, the story is a little too fast-paced, with some of the revelations coming too early on to have an impact on the reader, and others insufficiently developed to keep the reader engaged. By cutting down on some of the narrative strands, more time could have been focused on the key relationships and descriptive background. The dialogue also sometimes fails to move the action forward.

Nevertheless, A Time to Tell explores important themes including the disappointment and loneliness of growing old alone, the cycle of domestic violence, and the damage and resentment that can be caused by old secrets. It is also a reminder from a writer, who as a solicitor has experience of family law, that although relationships are never straightforward, family ties are often better left unbroken.