The Red Bag of Courage

Posted on 10th May 2011 in Reviews

If you’ve been following the BabyBarista blog you’ll know that the hero is an ambitious young barrister who aims to succeed at any price, and that his sworn enemy is a fellow barrister known as TopFirst.

And if you’ve read the first novel in the series, Law and Disorder (aka BabyBarista and the Art of War) you’ll recall how, when he and TopFirst were both pupils in chambers, the hero saw off this clever and ruthless rival for a coveted tenancy by being even more clever and ruthless (resorting, inter alia, to ensnaring TopFirst in a honeypot sting, using credit card fraud and fake email addresses, and then blackmailing him into submission).

Now comes the sequel. Law and Peace finds our Machiavellian former coffee-maker securely settled in chambers as a junior barrister and engaged on the first major trial of his career (acting for a bunch of eccentric seniors claiming damages for mental derangement caused by mobile phone mast emissions). And who should be on the other side (representing the phone company) but TopFirst. And what’s more, he’s out for vengeance.

How much lower will BabyBarista (“BB”) stoop to achieve his conquest this time? Quite low it seems. But he’s not alone. The book depicts a world in which lawyers with picaresque names like UpTights, OldRuin, SlipperySlope and TheVamp engage in a variety of antics calculated to bring their professions into disrepute.

They play drinking games in court. They hire bogus witnesses and interfere with real ones. They even attempt to brainwash the judge. BB himself thinks nothing of lending his wig and gown to a banker chum who pretends to be a barrister to impress a girlfriend (and who is so convincing in court that he decides next time to impersonate a judge). He conducts intimate meetings with TopFirst’s fiancee, TopFlirt, ostensibly to find out more about his enemy’s weak points. He then tries to frame TopFirst as an insider dealer, setting up a bogus account to buy shares in the phone company in his name, but TopFirst smells a rat and for much of the book BB is under threat of a pending complaint before the Bar Standards Board.

Sometimes BB worries that his success may be coming at too high a price, that he’s losing sight of the things that really matter. His mother, his barrister friend Claire and his colleagues in chambers, TheBusker and OldRuin, all urge him to take things easier, to be less obsessed by work. But BB remains driven by need: the need to pay off his mother’s crippling debts, the need to vanquish TopFirst and to prove himself in a system that encourages (indeed demands) cut-throat competition.

If there’s a serious point in Tim Kevan’s hilarious blog, perhaps that’s it. The modern Bar is so competitive and demanding, that you can only succeed by turning yourself into a devious and cynical bastard. But it doesn’t have to be that way. As OldRuin (a sort of elder statesman in chambers) observes;

I know it might sound a little boring, but all I wanted to be was a barrister. Not a lound high-flying one or anything like that. Just a comfortably off one with a practice that could keep my family and bring me a few good friends along the way.”

There are worse ways of earning a living, though as TheBusker (a character seemingly based on Tim Kevan himself) observes, “I’d take being a novelist or maybe a professional surfer given the choice.”

If only it were so simple. Needless to say, BB succeeds at the end of the day. The case settles, the complaint is withdrawn and he gets the coveted red bag (to keep his wig and gown in, instead of the usual blue one) awarded by a leading barrister to his junior in recognition of a particularly well done job.

There’s even a mention of the Weekly Law Reports (thanks Tim!): see p 233.

For these and other reasons, and not least because it’s very funny, this book comes highly recommended.

Illustration by Alex Williams (taken from the cover)