Book Review — The Barrister And The Letter of Marque

22 Sep

I loved Todd M. Johnson‘s contemporary suspense novels, so when I saw he had a new release set in Regency England I knew I needed to read it. It was great! A well-told mystery with wonderful historical details, The Barrister And The Letter of Marque gets a highly recommended rating from me. My interview with Johnson is HERE.

As a barrister in 1818 London, William Snopes has witnessed firsthand the danger of only the wealthy having their voices heard, and he’s a strong advocate who defends the poorer classes against the powerful. That changes the day a struggling heiress, Lady Madeleine Jameson, arrives at his door.

In a last-ditch effort to save her faltering estate, Lady Jameson invested in a merchant brig, the Padget. The ship was granted a rare privilege by the king’s regent: a Letter of Marque authorizing the captain to seize the cargo of French traders operating illegally in the Indian Sea. Yet when the Padget returns to London, her crew is met by soldiers ready to take possession of their goods and arrest the captain for piracy. And the Letter—-the sole proof his actions were legal—has mysteriously vanished.

Moved by the lady’s distress, intrigued by the Letter, and goaded by an opposing solicitor, Snopes takes the case. But as he delves deeper into the mystery, he learns that the forces arrayed against Lady Jameson, and now himself, are even more perilous than he’d imagined.

Todd M. Johnson is the author ofthree legal thrillers: The Deposit Slip (2012), Critical Reaction(2013), and Fatal Trust (2017), and The Barrister and the Letter of Marque (2021), his first foray into historical mystery. He has been a practicing attorney for over 30 years, specializing as a trial lawyer. A graduate of Princeton University and the University of Minnesota Law School, he also taught for two years as adjunct professor of International Law and served as a US diplomat in Hong Kong. He lives outside Minneapolis, Minnesota, with his wife and daughter.


My Impressions:

Todd M. Johnson’s contemporary suspense novels checked all the boxes for me — complex legal wrangling, underdog characters to cheer for, and page-turning mystery. I found all that and more in his newest novel, The Barrister And The Letter of Marque. This historical mystery set in Regency England features a clever barrister with a reputation for creativity in the courtroom. Barrister William Snopes and his colleagues take on a case of piracy involving a missing Letter of Marque from the Crown. Mysterious and highly influential people in society seem to be behind the case, and Snopes must uncover their identities before it’s too late for his client.

I found the legal aspects of The Barrister And The Letter of Marque fascinating. This is not a modern-day setting with Miranda rights and presumption of innocence. Johnson does a great job of bringing the 19th century English judicial system to life. Sleeping jurors, a hostile judge, and all the weight of the Crown join together to make Snopes’ job next to impossible. I loved how the characters had to use their wits and experience without modern forensics and communication. I think this is one of the reasons I could not put this book down. Another reason was the view of British society of the time — both the glittering ballrooms and the back alleys. The reader sees the veneer and the underbelly. Of course, the characters were wonderfully drawn — main and secondary. I loved how the author included historical figures in the novel, making me use my Google search and ponder the what-ifs of their stories. Barrister Snopes is a character to love — earnest and sincere with a heart that is both tender and calloused. His story is unfinished, hinting at more to come. I can’t wait!

If you are a fan of courtroom drama, historical details, and a complex story, then The Barrister And The Letter of Marque is the book for you. While set in an earlier era, the book will definitely appeal to fans of Sherlock Holmes (books and TV series/movies). I am passing this book on to my husband, a fan of all things British mystery. Can’t wait to hear his thoughts.

Highly Recommended.

Audience: adults.

(Thanks to Bethany House/NetGalley for a complimentary copy. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)