A distinguished British solicitor brings action against an American professor in this Cold War drama.
As a younger son, James Digby never expected to inherit either the family estate in Lancashire or the baronetcy that went with it. Instead, James fell in love with chess and dreamed of playing it professionally. He settled on a career as a solicitor in Chancery, even after the deaths of his older brother and his father made him Sir James. When an article by Yale professor Francis Hollander accuses Digby of being a spy for the Soviet Union, he hires his own solicitors and barristers to bring a libel suit. As Digby’s legal team, including junior barrister Ben Schroeder, tries to help him clear his name in court, they consider Hollander’s evidence far too scanty to hold up. Even highly sensitive information from MI6 agents willing to pay part of Hollander’s expenses isn’t compelling enough to make Digby want to settle. Side by side with the legal activities is Digby’s narration of his childhood, his years at Cambridge, his growing commitment to socialism—despite his privileged background— his marriage, his membership in a secret society, and his visits to the Soviet Union to report on chess tournaments. At the same time, Schroeder’s romance with a young clerk in a solicitor’s firm presents him with his own legal challenges. Even though it’s 1965, the rules about fraternization between barristers and solicitors are still stuck in the 18th century, and Schroeder could face disbarment if he continues the relationship. That’s the last worry he needs, especially given the increasing pressure of Digby’s case—and the interest that MI6 and the CIA have in keeping his libel suit out of the courtroom.
Even though this complex legal thriller is advertised as Ben Schroeder’s third case, Murphy (A Matter for the Jury, 2014, etc.) doesn’t give him center stage. Digby, the real protagonist, will keep you guessing until the very end.