ShortBookandScribes #BookReview – Until Proven Innocent by Nicola Williams

Until Proven Innocent by Nicola Williams will be published by Hamish Hamilton on 16th March in hardcover, eBook and audiobook. My thanks to the publishers for the proof copy of the book.

The gripping new courtroom thriller following barrister Lee Mitchell in her most controversial case yet

Lee Mitchell is a young barrister from a working-class Caribbean background: in the cut-throat environment of the courtroom, everything is stacked against her.

On her doorstep in South London the 15-year-old son of the pastor at the local Black church is shot, and the local community is shattered. All evidence is pointing to infamously corrupt, racist police officer Sergeant Jack Lambert as the irredeemable suspect. His own boss – rebel-turned-copper Danny Wallace – is certain he is guilty.

Against her will, Lee is strong-armed into defending him. With cries of ‘Black Lives Matter!’ echoing in the streets, Lee is at the centre of the turmoil as lies, anger, and mistrust spiral out of control.

With the line between her personal and professional life becoming increasingly blurred, Lee keeps asking herself the same question: How can she defend the indefensible?

I always enjoy a good legal crime thriller and Until Proven Innocent is a fantastic example of this genre. I was gripped by the story and found it to be a hard book to put down.

Lee Mitchell is a barrister in South London. She comes from the same side of the tracks as many of the people she represents and she’s done well for herself, but she’s never forgotten her roots. Against her better judgement Lee finds herself acting for DS Jack Lambert when he’s accused of shooting the son of the pastor at the Black church in her neighbourhood and it soon seems that locals are questioning where her loyalties lie.

Whilst Lee is the main character, there are also chapters that cover the story from the point of view of a Black police officer, a Tory councillor, instructing solicitor and others, and whilst much of the book is about bringing the case to court, the story covers much more than just the trial. This all served to give an excellent overview of crime, punishment, and the legal system as all the strands were pulled together.

I found this book to be a really exciting and compelling read. The author gives a strong sense of place and community, and the racism that the Black characters endure, not least from the suspect himself, felt realistic and sadly, not unexpected.

This is not the first book to feature Lee Mitchell (Without Prejudice was the first, originally published in 1998 and republished in 2021 as part of the Black Britain series) and I think there could be more in the future. I’d certainly read another book by Nicola Williams who has used her own experience as a barrister to brilliant effect. I haven’t read the first book and it didn’t matter as any pertinent background information was mentioned.

Until Proven Innocent is a rollicking good read. It’s gritty, relevant and fast-paced and comes highly recommended by me.

Nicola Williams started her career as a barrister in private practice, specialising in Criminal Law, including three successful Commonwealth death penalty appeals before the House of Lords sitting as the Privy Council. She was a legal expert on BBC World for the OJ Simpson trial verdict in 1995 and a member of the first Independent Advisory Group to the Metropolitan Police Service (following recommendations arising from the Stephen Lawrence Report [1999]). She has been a part-time Crown Court Judge since 2010. A former winner of Cosmopolitan magazine Woman of Achievement Award, she is an active volunteer for the Speakers for Schools programme, a charity which encourages young people from disadvantaged and under-represented communities to achieve their full career potential.

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