Life & Culture

Review: The Rapunzel Act

Alan Montague finds a different level of authenticity in a thriller


The Rapunzel Act
By Abi Silver
Lightning Books, £8.99
Reviewed by Alan Montague

In her first three novels, Abi Silver carved a niche by examining how the law copes with the challenges posed by technological advances.

This may sound a little dry, but Silver employed at times gripping courtroom drama as the means of exploring her theme. She also created a pair of appealing heroines: cautious, methodical solicitor Constance Lamb and the brilliant but temperamental barrister Judith Burton.

In this latest outing, the target is the televising of legal proceedings and the potentially dire consequences of letting cameras into the courtroom.

Court TV has been set up to broadcast high-profile cases, in an effort to make the justice system more transparent and accessible to the public.

The station’s launch coincides with a juicy Old Bailey murder trial featuring an ex-England international footballer, Danny Mallard, who is accused of beating in his breakfast TV host wife Rosie’s skull. If that wasn’t TV gold enough, Danny has undergone gender reassignment treatment since his playing days and is now a trans woman called Debbie. It is a decision that left former team-mates and coaches aghast — “like moving from Spurs to Arsenal,” says one.

Amid all the celebrity and scandal, can Court TV provide sober analysis of the case, or will its coverage descend into reality show-style entertainment, destroying any chance of a fair trial?

Burton and Lamb are Debbie’s defence team and find themselves not only battling the evidence stacked against their client, but also the fall-out from the coverage — everything from the prosecutor playing to the cameras to angry mobs clashing outside the court over transgender rights. And worse is to follow.

Abi Silver has the immense advantage of extensive experience as a lawyer and the proceedings have the ring of authenticity. We are in safe hands; along with the legal expertise, there’s a satisfying sense that important issues are being given an airing.

Silver says her inspiration for the book was the impact the TV coverage of the O. J. Simpson trial had upon the conduct of the trial itself and the subsequent debate on whether the practice should be adopted in the UK. While racism played a part in that case, Silver explores a different prejudice here — discrimination against the trans community.

Thought-provoking, definitely, but are there enough thrills? Silver certainly tries hard, kicking off with a police chase across East London, and while the case “prep” occupies the first part of the book, things get going with the trial, which is genuinely enthralling in places.

Burton and Lamb are now a well-established duo and The Rapunzel Act shows they have plenty of mileage in them for future judicial adventures. Silver’s real achievement, however, is in making issues that fascinate lawyers transparent, accessible and entertaining to readers.

Perhaps they should give her a TV show.

Alan Montague is a freelance writer and reviewer

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