Review: THE DEVIL IN DISGUISE, by Martin Edwards, first published 1998 by Hodder & Stoughton

Martin Edwards is probably best known for his Liverpool-based stories starring the lawyer Harry Devlin, a series that shows the grimy, gritty (and often pungent) back streets of the city as well as the more salubrious neighbourhoods. There is a lot more to Liverpool than the Liver building and the Beatles, after all.

A lawyer himself, Martin has a talent for simple descriptions that bring an area to life. “Empty burger cartons, chip papers and hot-dog wrappers were strewn along the pavement. He’d read that nutritionists believed there was a link between junk food and delinquency. If they were right, Liverpool was in for a crime wave.” And “Whoever said that April is the cruellest month had never spent January in Merseyside. It was one of the harshest winters he could remember and the forecasters promised worse to come. As his partner Jim Crusoe pointed out, it was perfect weather for probate lawyers. A cold snap that carried off a few elderly clients was always good for a solicitor’s cashflow.”

He has equally strong an eye for describing a character – and their foibles and mannerisms, which means that the reader is soon utterly engaged with each new person and the environment they inhabit. And of course, he has a wonderful way with words, as you would expect from a solicitor. I understand Martin specialises in company law, which may explain Harry Devlin’s exuberant, sometimes wry, sometimes acerbic, comments. He is a down-at-heel lawyer, a man who is keen to see justice done, and who therefore seeks to find the truth. His faith in the judicial system, I think it’s fair to say, is less than total.

This book is all about the shenanigans around a local arts charity, the Kavanaugh Trust. The Trust is not huge, and the money it did once possess is rapidly dwindling, which leads to some rancorous debates amongst the trustees. A very honourable, upright Chairman, a Treasurer who is less than competent, an abrasive loudmouth, and a museum curator who is very keen on the Chairman, a titled newcomer and a nervous, shy member, all lead to interesting discussions with Harry, who is their legal adviser. 

Of course the debates are set to grow even more interesting when it’s discovered that a crucial bequest on which the trustees were counting has suddenly become doubtful. Their benefactor was being looked after, during his last illness, by a helpful carer, Vera Blackhurst. And now a new will has been presented. Whereas all the assets had been promised to the charity (which was set up by the deceased’s father), the new will leaves all the dead man’s artistic works (which are not of high quality and generally worthless) to the trust. All the money, house and other items are to go to Ms Blackhurst. 

It means the charity will be near to collapse. 

As the trust’s legal adviser, Harry persuades the other members to find out more about the carer, but meanwhile there is another problem. Luke, the Chairman of Trustees, has not arrived for this very important meeting. He has been quiet and anxious recently, and he has mentioned that he has suspicions about another member of the Board. 

All of which comes into sharp focus when he is discovered to have died.

This is a masterful novel, with all the elements of a brilliant writer on display – a very satisfying ending that kept me guessing until the last pages, a wonderful cast of very believable characters, a twisting plot that was utterly engaging, and all orchestrated by  the delightful, self-deprecating Harry Devlin, who is a lawyer I’d employ like a shot – were I to need one! 

Highly recommended, of course!

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