Book Review: Sing a Worried Song

Sing a Worried Song; An Arthur Beauchamp Novel; by William Deverell; ECW Press, Toronto, 2015

Imagine my joy! I am headed to the train station to attend a continuing education conference in Toronto and decide to pop into my local library to see if any new books are of interest. As I enter, the librarian states: “we have a new Deverell … are you interested?”  It is the equivalent of asking whether I enjoy the trials of Rumpole, the detective works featuring Armand Gamache, John Rebus and Harry Hole, leaving aside Commissaire Maigret and Tintin!  It is the latest courtroom adventure of Arthur Beauchamp (pronounced Beechum), who has defended with passion and zeal alleged terrorists from an Asian country with a name no one can pronounce to the more typical sorts of accusations known to Canadian justice, but involving far from common individuals, often by quoting Latin sages and sacrificing his vanity whilst avoiding alcohol, save for those times when he has not been able to resist temptation…

For those familiar with the many signal writings of Willam Deverell, a celebrated barrister in his own right with an impressive history of advancing civil rights claims prior to the Charter, and since, I need do little more than to state that he is well known for his quirky characters and unforeseen endings; to know this author is reason enough to order this latest soon-to-be bestseller.  For readers of French, Yves Beauchemin comes to mind in terms of the unusual “personnages” and fascinating endings penned by Deverell. That being said, the correct words fail me as I attempt to summarize the forensic acumen and the bedroom debacles of this endearing Queen’s Counsel for those not yet privileged to have read one of the prior books in this well received series.  Allow me to say that each chapter is captivating by reason of the depth of the study of human nature on display and the breadth of the circumstantial attacks on the law’s many illogical requirements and expectations. 

I hasten to add that this volume is of particular interest to Crown counsel as Beauchamp leaves aside his typical brief on behalf of the accused in order to prosecute a well to do graduate student charged with the apparent “thrill kill” of a street clown.  The action begins some twenty five years previously, to then leap forward as we encounter our hero, attempting to enjoy retirement on his island of repose, together with a cast of neighbours that call forth the best of Hogan’s Heroes, Papillon, the Keystone Cops and Bob Morane and Bill Ballantine.  Deverell adds a few trips to Vancouver, including voyages to the past, to expose the antics and outrageous conduct of the Bench and Bar. 

Based on a trial William Deverell was engaged in on behalf of the Crown, Sing a Worried Song contains not only the captivating trial scenes one expects from so experienced an advocate but the gripping and suspenseful writing of one who has spent four decades honing his craft.  This book is full of lessons for all counsel engaged in criminal litigation, not least in terms of the dangers attendant upon high-stakes litigation fuelled by stimulants of all kinds.  It is especially useful for prosecutors as we see the dangers of overreaching, of ego and of allowing the thrill of the “hunt” to potentially obscure the ethical boundaries of the fair and just presentation of evidence.  In the end, Deverell makes plain that the road to justice is chalk full of potential pitfalls while entertaining his readers at every turn of the page.  It should be required reading at this summer’s Crown School.

Gilles Renaud, Ontario Court of Justice