Friday, January 30, 2015

Murder at Osgoode Hall by Jeffrey Miller

When I first picked this book up I thought from the cover art that it was for children or young adults - I'm not sure why they decided to go with this illustration, which, combined with the slightly larger paperback size and the fact that the story is narrated by a cat, certainly seems to aim it at a younger demographic. Certainly young people, even teens, could enjoy it, but I don't think it's aimed at them - the story is heavy on law talk and allusions that I don't think I would have picked up as a teen.

That said, the story is narrated by a cat, which is delightful. In fact it is the burst of life this otherwise sometimes plodding mystery needs. Amicus, the cat, is found with a bird in his mouth by Justice Mariner outside his office at Osgoode Hall (the stately institution at Queen and University where you will often observe folks having wedding pictures taken). A plea for mercy is made by the Hall librarians, and Amicus comes to live there full time in an old chip box.

The mystery is the murder of a "bencher," a governor of the law society. The victim was an anti-Establishment "do-gooder" trying to rein in the spending of the other benchers, so obviously he had lots of enemies. Perhaps also obviously, he wasn't as good as he seemed and had a couple little schemes on the go.

The first half of the book was enjoyable. After being initially turned off by Amicus's pretentious narration, I started to get used to it and especially enjoyed asides about the history of various legalities. The second half, however, is basically entirely set in the courtroom and may as well have been written in third person, or just by an ordinary person and not a cat - it's as if Amicus suddenly disappears from the story, leaving us with a somewhat uninspired courtroom mystery that for me - unlearned in the law - raised a lot of questions about conflict of interest.

I kind of thought the cat would be more involved in actually solving the mystery, sniffing out clues, or at least landing on relevant passages of law in aid of the defence (or the prosecution). There was one interlude that started out promising - Amicus ends up escaping into the water and nearly drowning - but it seems, perplexingly, to have had no bearing on anything else in the story. I had no particular attachment to any of the human characters so I really missed the cat's input in the second half.

It was a great take on Toronto, coming from behind the windows of such a central building that so few Torontonians ever have cause to visit. I really enjoyed reading a story set in Osgoode Hall. My general enjoyment of the book overall was uneven, so I will award it three CN Towers out of five.

No comments:

Post a Comment