A Burton and Lamb thriller” proclaims the cover of Abi Silver’s latest offering, The Aladdin Trial (Lightning Books, £8.99). It may seem premature to hail solicitor Constance Lamb and barrister Judith Burton as the kind of odd-couple, crime-solving duo capable of boosting book sales on name recognition alone. This is only their second outing after all. But, after last year’s confident debut in The Pinocchio Brief, Silver reunites them in another assured display of crime writing.
In that first appearance, Lamb and Burton uncovered the truth behind a murder in the closed world of a top public school. Here, they encroach on another secretive institution – a major NHS hospital in Hampstead, north London.
An elderly private patient, an artist, has fallen to a messy death from a window on the 11th floor. The possibility of an accident or suicide is dismissed by police when a suitable suspect presents himself in the form of a Syrian refugee who works as a cleaner on the ward.
He has been seen chatting with the woman, and, even more suspiciously, has bought her a copy of the Arabic folk tales, The One Thousand and One Nights, which is discovered by her bedside.
It doesn’t help that Ahmad won’t talk about his family’s harrowing past or the reason for his panic attacks. And as a refugee he is an easy target for an unsympathetic media. Lamb is given the case and reckons only one barrister has a chance of getting Ahmad off.
Leeds-born Silver is herself a lawyer and handles the legal elements of the story as expertly as you would expect. As in The Pinocchio Brief, the cut and thrust of a murder trial makes for a compelling climax. Having hit on a winning formula, she sticks to it and, while alert readers might not be entirely surprised by the outcome, the plot has enough suspense to keep the pages turning.
Neither Burton nor Lamb has the kind of tortured back-story often given to sleuths to make them seem more interesting. No alcoholism or estranged children here. Constance (or “Contents” as Ahmad’s young daughter endearingly calls her) is calm though her boyfriend, an unemployed actor, seems jealous of her career success. Meanwhile, Judith — the seen-it-all legal professional — has discovered domestic bliss with a witness from the previous book.
The relationship between the two women — the young solicitor who cares about clients, the veteran barrister who cares about results — has a pleasing dynamic, but it’s a crowded market and their characters will have to be developed carefully if they are to have the literary longevity Silver (and her publisher) would doubtless like.
The Aladdin Trial
By Abi Silver
Lightning Books, £8.99