Magazine article The Spectator

Drifting out of Court

Magazine article The Spectator

Drifting out of Court

Article excerpt

JUDGE SAVAGE by Tim Parks Secker, L16.99, pp. 442, ISBN 043620598X

Judge Savage is a dashing mixture of thriller, social comedy and dysfunctional family saga. The dust-cover is misleading. It shows a very black black in a judge's wig, looking thoughtful and gleaming with sweat. Judge Savage is not like that at all. He is `almond-coloured' (Parks doesn't say whether with or without the shell), of mixed race, and was adopted by an English colonel and his wife who already had a son. They send both boys to Rugby and Oxford. Taxi-drivers recognise Daniel as a toff. He is as humane and good as he is clever and sceptical. His two strongest impulses are for `helping and leching'. The second is awkward, especially as he is devastatingly attractive to women, which gives leching a good start. He has recently been appointed crown court judge in the northern town where he lives, pipping his best friend Martin Shields to the post. This too is awkward: Martin has been his mentor since their schooldays, and Martin's wife Christine is among his over-ardent admirers. Daniel's wife Hilary is a musician, an intelligent, decisive woman. They have just come together after a split (she was fed up with the leching), and are buying a house outside the town, where they intend to be happier than ever before. They have two children, a furious teenage daughter, Sarah, and an ordinary, affectionate little boy called Tom who is into football and computer games.

A very great deal happens at very great speed. Daniel is dealing with two court cases. One involves eight young defendants. One of them (but which?) killed a woman by throwing a stone off a bridge over a busy road. Each has to give evidence, and Parks manages to give each his or her own voice and personality. He is a brilliant vocal mimic.

But that's just Daniel's professional programme. The novel bristles with other dramas. Here are a few, not necessarily in chronological order: Sarah fails her Alevels by writing obscene answers and leaves home in a rage against her parents. Martin descends into depression, physical sickness, hospital, death. Daniel gives the funeral oration. Hilary discovers more infidelities and leaves him again, taking Tom with her. Christine tries harder but unsuccessfully to seduce him. She turns out to be a virgin. No wonder: she and Daniel discover Martin's photograph collection of paedo-pics. Daniel consoles himself with a prostitute and a crown prosecution solicitor. …

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