What is the best courtroom fight in fiction? I’ve always liked the American contests between Michael Connelly’s Mickey Haller and the presiding judge, which often end with our hero writing a cheque to purge his contempt. Then there’s William Lashner’s hero in Fatal Flaw who falls seriously foul of the judge. Quite rightly so, particularly when it emerges he had been sleeping with the murder victim and is currently defending the man accused of killing her.
But for a sheer knock-down, kick-the-lawyer brawl there can’t be one to beat the opening pages of Jock Serong’s Quota. The hero does really ask for it: ‘What do you want me to say, Your Honour? Could you have cocked this thing up any worse? Bloody helpless kid and you know she’s back out on the street now… You’re known throughout the state as a heartless old prick and a drunk, and seeing I’ve gone this far, your daughter-in-law’s appointment to the court is widely viewed as a grubby political payoff.’
A Melbourne lawyer for 17 years, Australian Serong ‘fell into law school trying to compromise’. (Now where have I heard that phrase?) He then had the opportunity to edit the Great Ocean Quarterly. Although he was married with four young children he snapped at the chance, gave up the law and upped sticks to western Victoria.
As with many lawyers who turn to writing, Serong’s first novel, Quota, had a legal setting. After duly getting his night in the cells, Charlie Jardim’s legal career was in tatters but he has the opportunity of redemption in the form of prosecuting a case in a remote seaside town. The novel won the 2015 Ned Kelly prize for the best first crime fiction.
With the sadly missed Peter Temple and the very popular Jane Harper, Australian crime fiction is becoming more widely read here. Serong deserves to be better known, not least for examples of how a lawyer should not deal with a recalcitrant judiciary.
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor