When I heard that Clare Jacob's Ophelia in Pieces was a novel about a lawyer, I jumped at it. My own years in legal practice (though I was a solicitor doing civil work, including litigation, here in Scotland, whereas the eponymous Ophelia is a criminal barrister whose stamping ground is London's Old Bailey) mean that it's of considerable professional interest to me, but even if you know nothing of the world it portrays, it's a very enjoyable, fluent, highly readable book.
Ophelia Dormandy's marriage is disintegrating, and she's struggling to reconcile the visceral pull of motherhood with the high demands of a pressured career which has no room for absences, preoccupations and competing loyalties. Her job defending those who may be guilty is one she's good at - it's a career she chose for reasons to do with her past - and while questions of conscience do arise, she has long since taken a pragmatic approach, so whether her client is an embezzler or someone accused of sexual offences, Ophelia acts for them, clear-minded, clever, largely in control. But when she finds herself with too much to handle, a simple slip leads her into dangerous territory, and work threatens her personal life in the worst way.
Good novels about women with domestic problems are ten-a-penny, of course, and while that strand of the plot is well done, where the book really comes into its own is in the treatment of Ophelia's professional life. Clare Jacob is herself a barrister, so she knows well that of which she writes, and I hope that in future books she will revisit Ophelia's chambers and give us more of the QC Samuel Slidders and the clerks, of briefs and case conferences, of the Bailey and its environs, and of the whole frenetic world of the legal machine, because that is the book's real strength and distinction, and it's those scenes which stand out.
On the basis of this debut I shall look forward eagerly to Clare's next novel, and if you're in the mood for some legal drama with a sympathetic leading character, then this one comes highly recommended.
(Just by the way, there's a tiny discrepancy in continuity at one point, and though it's of no relevance to the plot, had Ophelia noticed something similar during cross-examination, she would have used it to discredit or wrong-foot her witness; it has no deleterious effect, however, on my opinion of the book!).