The Crime Readers' Association

A A Chaudhuri – The Scribe

24th June 2019

Making it as a lawyer has always been a cutthroat business. In a dark, creepy legal thriller, metaphor becomes reality – by A A Chaudhuri

In The Scribe, published 1st July, a killer is targeting former students of The Bloomsbury Academy of Law. The victims – all female – are gruesomely butchered according to a pattern corresponding with the legal syllabus. Even more disconcerting are riddles sent by the killer to investigating officer, Chief Inspector Jake Carver, offering clues as to who is next and where they will die. Up-and-coming lawyer Madeline Kramer, a former Bloomsbury Academy student, soon finds her life turned upside down by the savagery. And when she decides to help Carver track down the killer, she places herself in mortal danger. Can Maddy and Carver unscramble the complex riddles and save the lives of those destined to die?

Although I was a lawyer before I started writing, I’d always dreamt of becoming an author. I was an avid reader as a child. Tennis was my life for 13 years, and so books allowed me to escape the rigorous physical and mental demands of playing competitive sport. Away from the tennis court, I’d get lost in the fast-moving legal world of John Grisham, rooting for his feisty, moralistic lawyers against the mean, corrupt corporate giants they faced. For me, there is nothing better than escaping real life with a good thriller. I love the intrigue, the suspense, the twists and turns which keep readers guessing and wanting for more, the challenge of identifying and yet not wanting to identify the culprit because that’s what keeps you reading. More than anything, I love the page-turning nature of this genre, a feature that leaves you breathless and crying out for more when you close the back cover. And it’s because I love all these facets that comprise a cracking thriller, I was itching to write my own.

I’d like to think that what sets both The Scribe and the sequel The Abduction apart, is having a female London lawyer amateur sleuth as its central protagonist. Maddy Kramer is a gutsy, go-getting lawyer who finds herself caught up in the investigations of the acerbic DCI Carver. She’s brave, she’s headstrong but, like Carver, she comes with baggage, and I hope that’s what makes her real and likeable.

As a former lawyer, I often get asked if The Scribe was inspired by a case I worked on. It would be a great talking point to say it was, but it wasn’t. I didn’t practise criminal law, I was a commercial litigator, meaning I mainly advised companies on civil disputes and nothing as gruesome as murder!

So, if not from a case, where did the idea originate? Well, thankfully no one was murdered at any of the firms I worked for. Although I’m sure the temptation was there. You get some shocking characters in the City, who earn themselves notorious reputations. This, together with the brutal hours, can test sanity levels and strain relationships to the brink. But no one, as far as I know(!), committed murder. Having said that, the firm where Maddy works is based on the corporate firm where I trained in terms of its size and culture, and I hope I’m therefore able to give readers an insight into the ruthless environment City lawyers operate in. My biggest inspiration for the plot, however, came from my time at the London College of Law.

I spent two years there after reading History at UCL, and in the first year did the law conversion course where I studied and took exams in seven legal subjects. Crime was one of them, and although I didn’t become a criminal lawyer (frankly, I didn’t have the stomach or the temperament for it!), crime was my favourite subject on the course, at the end of which I was able to quote reams of case law parrot-fashion. I don’t want to give too much away, but these seven legal subjects are pivotal to the plot in The Scribe, and so played a huge role in inspiring the novel.

Although no reader wants to be bogged down with tedious legal terminology and procedure, I hope my novel strikes a balance between the fast-moving story bit and throwing in a bit of my legal knowledge here and there through Maddy to inform the reader about a subject they might not be too familiar with. For example, in the way Maddy helps Carver solve the killer’s riddles. As a former historian and lawyer, the vital research that comes with writing a book is also a discipline I’m comfortable with. As well as researching police procedure, I visited the various murder locations (some of which I was already familiar with having lived in London) armed with notepad and pen and literally ‘living’ the last movements of my victims in order to make the murder scenes as real and chilling as possible.

Although crime writing is in many respects a world away from law, there are parallels. Both require a systematic approach. Just as a lawyer must plan every step of a case, mapping out strategy in line with legal procedure, outlining the facts accurately and coherently, crime writing demands similar meticulous planning and attention to detail. For example, plausible plotting, the gradual unveiling of a credible culprit, while throwing in red herrings, twists and turns along the way to keep readers engaged. After all, you don’t want them guessing too early, just as a lawyer doesn’t want the other side guessing his firm’s game plan too early. In both fields, it’s vital to keep that element of surprise!

Although law wasn’t for me long-term, I’m grateful for the experience and skills it gave me, without which I would never have been able to write legal thrillers. But the book is not just about murder in a legal setting. It’s about the uglier side of human nature – jealousy, neglect, infidelity, greed, vanity and betrayal – and the destructive impact it can have.

Find out more about the author here.

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