This book deploys a concept which might surprise the general reader: the ‘respected Fleet Street lawyer’. Jaundiced views of the print media and of lawyers are so well-entrenched that these words brought me up short at first. But I do recall such people from the days when Fleet Street was the place where most national newspapers were produced.
Our hero, Harry Flack, is not an in-house staff lawyer. He is a night lawyer, a member of that independent freelance breed who arrive at the end of the normal working day to work a shift, overseeing the final stage of the paper’s preparation. This is not an easy role, for many fail to win the respect of editorial staff. Happily for him, Flack does.
Flack is by no means perfect, though. Indeed, he has some irritating characteristics. He chooses to abandon a promising career at a ‘medium-sized, well-regarded London firm’ to devote himself exclusively to media law. There are mitigating circumstances. The senior partner of the firm he leaves is a tax specialist, who describes a female partner in the firm as ‘the fragrant Melanie’. A man ‘not known for his fidelity to feminism’ is how Alex Wade delicately describes him. Worse than this, Dr Tax describes libel, with which Flack is very taken, as ‘a ludicrous and arcane branch of the law’.
Author: Alex Wade
£10.33, Blue Mark Books
Flack has two other main weaknesses. One is a tendency to pour all his decisiveness into his work. The other will be familiar to some lawyers’ spouses and partners: ‘A man so immersed in a series of routines and rituals that he often failed to notice anything beyond them.’ These character flaws are the main pivots of this often very funny book.
Three relationships are central. A romantic relationship with a woman. Flack struggles to keep this going, due to his indecision, and his obsession with news, newspapers and those who create them (and cricket). Second, a professional antagonism with a venal and dishonest editor, Eddie Conrad. And this is not an abstract conflict between low corruption and high principle; Flack’s hatred for Conrad is deeply personal. Third, there is a parent and child relationship, which frames the work.
Wade is a prolific writer of non-fiction but this represents a confident stride into the world of fiction. Media law insiders will find well-known figures and can guess the models for the fictional characters. Non-specialists, meanwhile, can enjoy the tightly wrought plot and deft characterisation.
Sir Mark Warby is a High Court judge