The Barrister and the Letter of Marque

I received a complimentary copy of the novel from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
  • Author: Todd M. Johnson
  • Publisher: Bethany House
  • On-Sale Date: Aug. 3rd
  • Synopsis: 1810s— Visited by Lady Jameson, English barrister William Snopes, who has sworn off political cases, begins investigating criminal charges against Captain Tuttle of the Padget. Accused of piracy, Tuttle claims innocence on the grounds of a letter of marque, a legal order to intercept smugglers. Unfortunately, the letter is nowhere to be found, and neither is Tuttle.
  • Recommendation: Highly Recommended; see Content notes for minor concerns

One of my favorite aspects of reviewing is having the opportunity to become acquainted with new (and new to me) authors. After all, public libraries don’t usually have a Christian fiction section, which makes the genre pretty hard to locate. As a result, I actually haven’t read many adult books, since I prefer Christian fiction. With that said, having just finished my first book by Todd M. Johnson, I can definitely see myself enjoying more of his works.

Why I Chose It

One of the advanced acclaims (Jocelyn Green) wrote that the novel “combines the intrigue of John Grisham, the vibrant world of Charles Dickens, and a mystery worthy of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.”

While I wouldn’t have expected a novel about a lawyer (barrister) to fall into the genre of detective stories, I was intrigued by this review, and it was one of the reasons I decided to read the book. Having completed the novel, I can honestly and happily say that the novel delivers exactly what Green describes (minus the Grisham part, because I haven’t read him). This was not only a highly enjoyable read, but also one that was refreshingly clean.

What I Liked

This is one of those happy instances where I have the challenge of isolating my favorite parts of the novel, since it was all so good!

  • Writing
    • Johnson seamlessly integrates details into the narrative, demonstrating his keen observational skills. For example, I noted one description about being shielded from the rain, while running, when stepping under an overhang. Even the fashion trends are well-documented when appropriate, but seamlessly incorporated, lending historical credence. Such observations demonstrate Johnson’s artful sophistication and attention to detail.
  • Structure
    • Johnson incorporates numerous characters and settings. Although I wasn’t sure, at first, if I’d be able to keep track of the varied perspectives, the numerous characters contributed different elements of plot, slowly teasing out the mystery. Plus, changes in setting are clearly noted at the beginning of sections.
    • Sections, as well as chapters, are on the shorter side. This keeps the action fast-paced, while creating built-in stopping points (if you are disciplined enough to stop).
  • Plot
    • There were quite a few delicious plot twists, surprises and unexpected events. I found myself exclaiming (internally) at multiple points in the story.
  • Author’s Background
    • An attorney with thirty years of experience under his belt, Johnson has a background in law— and it shows. I’m sure Johnson’s personal experiences lent to the characterization of Snopes, who executed some clever courtroom tactics.
    • On a similar note, I really enjoyed reading about Snopes’ times in trial, because I didn’t know what he would do next, but he did it brilliantly!
  • Message(s):
    • There were several meaningful lines I bookmarked. Good stuff!

Spiritual Elements

Although spiritual elements were very light, I did not feel like this book was a stranger to the genre. There were truths, messages and character growth embedded throughout, along with an occasional philosophical/spiritual conversation between Snopes and Father Thomas.

Content Concerns

Overall, this was one of the cleaner books I’ve read lately, and I don’t consider the below items to be prohibitive to a high recommendation:

  • Several uses of the pejorative term “gypsy,” sometimes in conjunction with the word “tinkerer.”
  • The Lord’s name is used in vain at least once; characters occasionally use “Garn” as an exclamatory.
  • The novel is set during England’s colonization of India, which is reflected in the narrative’s references to tea, as well as deportment of criminals to other countries. Just wanted to note that I endorse neither colonization nor its lingering effects.

Overall Impression

Highly enjoyable mystery; I would gladly recommend the novel and wouldn’t mind reading more from the author!

Published by Stephaniesninthsuitcase

Hi, there! My name is Stephanie and I’m a Fresno, CA native. After studying at Biola University, I received my MLIS (Masters in Library Science) from San Jose State University. I live with my mom, poet Kimberly Vargas Agnese, and serve as her unofficial agent. We reside at MeadowArc, a food forest in its infancy. I am called to, and passionate about, purity. In fact, the name Agnes means “pure.” Before I was born, my mom felt led to include the name Agnes in her name, and in the names of her children. My full, hyphenated name includes 26 letters (but not the whole alphabet).

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