Judging a book

Judging a book

Jefferson Chase looks at a whisky thriller
Jefferson Chase

28 November 2008

Publication: Issue 76

Thrillers most often focus on public events and conflicts, for example, politics, crime or warfare. But as we all know, and contrary to the cliché of domestic bliss, people’s private lives are equally full of twists and turns, rivalries and betrayals.Tim Parks’ 2003 novel Judge Savage is a fine example of what might be called the family thriller, a story of how a public figure is brought down by internal, rather than external enemies.As the story opens, Daniel Savage – a successful judge promoted ahead of his turn because of his minority background – has decided to mend his adulterous ways and devote himself to home and hearth.In the living room of his new house in suburban England, he enjoys a drink with his piano-teacher wife Hilary and one of her pupils: As the ice crackled under the whisky and the sponge-cake steamed, Daniel felt entirely happy.It makes you sick, she laughed. Max was also laughing. We’ll make love later, the judge promised himself. He was aware of savouring the moment’s happiness. I’ll get fat, he thought, I’ll grow jolly and complacent.Little does Savage know that his life is about to get anything but jolly.An ex-lover, a former juror from a immigrant Korean family, calls in the middle of the night, intimating that her brothers are threatening her life because she has had an affair with a black man.And at a night out in a restaurant, Savage’s daughter makes it abundantly clear that she is not willing to let bygones be bygones.Sarah said sharply: And to think, this time last year Dad was living in a hotel and everybody thought they’d broken up.The dining room at The Duck was a favourite with families. No sooner had Sarah spoken than the noise seemed to invade their own, in particular a fat man laughed raucously. No that’s too funny, he was shouting. That’s too funny, the fat man roared.Moments of cringing embarrassment are one of Parks’ strong points – every time certain figures in the novel open their mouths, readers only expect the worst.Savage is brutally attacked in a public car park.The press blames English neo-Nazis, angry at a verdict of his in a high-profile case, and elevates the judge to a hero. But Savage suspects his exlover’s family.Meanwhile, under the glare of the public spotlight, the revelations about Savage’s past infidelities keep emerging. The worst revelation, though, is their ultimate source.It was Sarah told me, Hilary said...She was very upset. She said, as soon as Dad leaves chambers he always goes to see that woman he works with at her flat. Everybody knows, she said. An edge crept into Hilary’s voice. And she was right.Everybody knew except me.Before long, Daniel Savage is drinking his whisky alone – for consolation.Judge Savage also offers fine descriptions of the ambivalence of the British court system and a satiric depiction of the modern tabloid press, but it’s the sharper-than-a-serpent’s tooth plotline of domestic double-dealing that really kept me turning the pages.So Parks is my last recommendation for 2008, but you might want to put off reading it until after the family holidays. Judge Savage might just make you look at your relatives in a new, and uncomfortable, light.

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