At a crucial stage in one of PG Wodehouse's greatest works, Jeeves attempts to comfort Bertie Wooster, who is about to embark on a perilous cycle ride, with a story about two men called Nicholls and Jackson, whose tandem collided with a brewer's van. The collision was so violent that their corpses could not be distinguished, so those present assembled what they could and called it Nixon.
The Sanctuary House Case also gives the impression of two (or even three) different books which have suffered a similar fate to that of Nicholls and Jackson.
It consists of more than 1,400 pages bound in two volumes. The first tells in great detail the story of a construction arbitration resulting from works carried out to an elegant Queen Anne property called Sanctuary House. Threaded through this account, and identified by a different typeface in each case, are three other elements: a discursive ramble through aspects of arbitration law and procedure; an account of the private thoughts and actions of the parties to the arbitration; and the reflections on life of the arbitrator, one D Emsee MSc, FRICS, FCIArb.
Occasionally the distinctive figure (complete with monocle) of the real Mr Cato saunters through these pages, hosting dinners and giving lectures with aplomb. Cato is quoted at length in the text, in common with other leading figures from the construction arbitration scene, many of whom are generously credited in the author's introduction.
The second half of the project – it seems wrong to call it a book – is made up of a compendious 700-page volume of documents ranging from complete proof of evidence in the arbitration to orders for directions, sets of arbitration rules and over 100 pages devoted to the Arbitration Bill. The 1996 Act is offered as a free supplement.
As a narrative this work has much of the addictive quality of a superior version of The Archers – a blend of soap opera and useful information by which the casual reader will inevitably be disarmed.
The serious seeker after truth whose time is not his own may, however, retreat baffled by the sheer volume of the work compared to the more conventional (and rigorous) textbooks and practical guides available.
On the other hand, if everyone with a credit to his name invests in a copy, Cato and his publishers will probably do rather well. I certainly hope so.