Crown Prosecutor Helen West

West enlists the help of her newly-acquired cleaner, Cath, who is both willing and loyal. Cath also cleans for Helen's friends, the Elliotts, in a plot that is in places a little too convenient.
Just as characters in television programmes never have to use the toilet, lucky Ms West seems to escape the tedium of traffic courts in favour of the cut and thrust of trials.

In fact we hear little of Helen West's life at work, save to learn that she has an ogre for a boss and the familiar mountain of paperwork to face.

Whereas Patricia D Cornwell (another popular crime writer) regularly invites her readers behind the scenes of a Chief Medical Examiner's office, where she worked for a time, this work does not show off Frances Fyfield's legal experience.

A Clear Conscience impresses not with a complicated and gripping plot but with the tremendous scrutiny to which Frances Fyfield subjects relationships and emotions.

As such this is more a book for students of anthropology than fans of Sherlock Holmes.

Christian Horne is a Crown Prosecutor based in Oxford.

False Witness

Dexter Dias

Hodder & Stoughton £5.9

Dexter Dias' first novel brings an inside view of the workings of a murder trial. The victim is a 16-year-old girl brutally stabbed to death with a knife used in ancient rituals.

The accused is a celebrated author of soft pornography and confessed child abuser. From a difficult and unpredictable client in the cells of the Old Bailey the fast-moving plot takes us through complicated twists as Tom Fawley, the hero, becomes increasingly obsessed with the case.

Fawley emerges as a tired, cynical barrister disillusioned with his profession but determined to unravel the macabre machinations of the village of Stonebury. He travels through his professional life baiting judges and rebelling against traditions. His personal life is complicated by an affair with junior prosecuting counsel.

The plot at times becomes incredible, occasionally such that the reader loses that essential requirement of compulsive need to know what happens next. The judges, police and prosecuting counsel are portrayed with monotony as right-wing Establishment stereotypes.

Solicitors will not be terribly pleased by the conspicuous lack of attention given to their part in the trial process. Fawley seems to hold conferences, interview witnesses, carry out detailed investigations and conduct the trial without once having recourse to his instructing solicitors, who don't even get a mention or play any part in the process.

Besides the plot, lawyers will recognise the background of well-known watering holes and identify with the characters that frequent them, in and around the Temple.

While a passable knowledge of the works of William Blake will assist the reader as Fawley and his junior play sleuth, it is not essential. And glimpses of sharp wit and sparkling examples of cross examination lift this book from the run of the mill crime fiction works.

James Lewis is a barrister practising at 3 Raymond Buildings, Gray's Inn.

In the age of Grisham and Turow, it sometimes seems that every other US lawyer must also be a writer of blockbusting thrillers. Yet there is nothing new about the connection between the law and literature.

The editor of this anthology, first published in the US three years ago, traces the link back to ancient Greece in an introduction as thoughtful as his selection of entries.

I must take issue with him on his bold claim (made with a surprising lack of legal caution, I thought) that "this is the first anthology of short stories solely about lawyers and the law". It is not. Wishingrad was beaten to it years ago in his own country by Albert Blaustein and over here by John Welcome. But this does not detract from the quality of the book.

It is divided into five sections: contemporary stories are followed by seven pieces dating back to the mid-19th century, three humorous items and a substantial section entitled 'Other Voices, Other Countries', which includes contributors as diverse as Franz Kafka, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Isabel Allende and John Mortimer.

The majority of contributors are American or Canadian – none of the current big names such as Grisham, who seldom bothers with a short story, but notable writers such as Margaret Atwood, Garrison Keillor and, unexpectedly, the Moby Dick man, Herman Melville.

Anthologies tend by their nature not to offer stories of uniform quality and readers will find some of the contributions more to their taste than others.

But it is an interesting and at times thought-provoking book and one can readily forgive the omission of writers who would be automatic choices in a comparable work from an English editor: people such as A P Herbert, Henry Cecil, Cyril Hare and Michael Gilbert. Certainly worth a read next time you are kept waiting at court.

Martin Edwards is a partner at Mace & Jones, Liverpool. His latest Harry Devlin novel Yesterday's Papers is published by Bantam Books.