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Beverley McLachlin’s Full Disclosure has voice and authority

First times are to be treasured. That Beverley McLachlin was the first female Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada is special. That her first novel, Full Disclosure, written in the first year of retirement is not only expertly and tightly crafted, but one terrifically good read, is also special.

Full Disclosure is a legal thriller. What distinguishes it is that it is written with an insider’s insight, where the reader is privy to strategic choices of prosecutor and defense counsel, from the selection of twelve jurors to the posturing of counsel in front of that jury. We get to participate in the sparring between bench and bar, often at odds in the pursuit of a result, whether conviction or acquittal — a contest which does not necessarily equate with justice or truth. McLachlin tells her story from a uniquely Canadian perspective. She brings to life Vancouver with its seedy underbelly and the mansions of the North Shore. The Picton farm is part of the background. Her characters are deftly drawn, layered to the point of a credible human mystery. As for the story: the reader cannot put this down. Every chapter ends with a hook that pulls you inexorably into the next.

So, what is it about? Defense counsel Jilly Truitt, whose nascent career is just beginning its meteoric rise, scores the case of Vincent Trussardi, scion of the business world, elegant Italian patron of native arts with a vast private collection, accused of murdering his elegant and socially conscious wife Laura of the established, blue-blooded St. John family. The murder was brutal and took place in the matrimonial bed of their North-Shore mansion. Trussardi has already been convicted by the press. But before Jilly can launch into the Trussardi murder case, we watch her pull off an acquittal in a murder case where her young client had plugged five bullets into a drug-trafficker whose territory he had invaded. The two cases will become entangled with twists and turns that keep the reader always two paces behind.

The heroine, Jilly Truitt is a sexy and strategic defense counsel of unknown birth parents, whose back-story includes foster care. The one sex scene in the novel, with Michael St. John, (yes, cousin of the deceased in the Trussardi murder case) begins with Michael playing Debussy at the piano, Jilly drinking Chablis, and ends with Jilly picking up her clothes and making a surreptitious exit that ends their lengthy relationship in the wee hours of the morning. Jilly’s sorrow over her own inability to commit, the lonely dinners of tuna and salad make her sympathetic. Modern choices in a modern and relevant context that resonate with the reader. McLachlin has even succeeded in making lawyers sympathetic:

Alone now, I realize how tired I am. It looks easy, what lawyers do – sitting in soft chairs, making notes and noises from time to time – but that’s an illusion. Tension, concentration, the uncertain interval between question and answer all take their toll.

The dialogue, too, is expertly crafted — the likely result of a long career of listening to stories unfold through questions and answers, multiple witnesses, multiple points-of-view. And at the core of it all, a deep understanding of human nature that drives forward the story through questions like: “What man would murder the woman who is carrying his only child?”

What we have here is the inquiring mind of the lawyer and jurist, now bold new writer. It is a magnificent fit — a must read for every litigator who toils in the vineyards of human misery and every wannabe writer. Beverley McLachlin has created something real and visceral. Full Disclosure has voice and authority, something unique and original. Hats off, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, and all rise for what we hope will be the encore.

Darlene Madott is a family law lawyer who has practised law for more than three decades and is an award-winning author of seven books. Her fiction has been widely anthologized, most recently short-listed for the Carter V. Cooper/Vanderbilt award (Exile editions).