The Jewish Chronicle
When the suspect is a driver-less car
The Cinderella Plan
Lightning Books, £8.99
TWO YOUNG children are killed and their mother seriously injured as they cross a busy road in north London. But was the man behind the wheel of the car that ploughs into them actually driving? The vehicle involved was “autonomous” — one of an innovative breed of driver-less cars heralding a brave new world of safer motoring. These miracles of artificial intelligence are designed to avoid accidents at all costs, so what went wrong?
An added complication is that the man sitting in the driving seat was none other than the technology whiz who heads the company making the vehicles. This James Dyson-like figure is charged with causing death by dangerous driving. If found guilty, he’ll
go to prison; if the car was at fault, his business will collapse.
Into this lose-lose situation enter veteran barrister Judith Burton and ambitious young solicitor Constance Lamb, teaming up to defend their client and, in the process, create new case law. “How thrilling,” says Burton.
And, in the main, it is. Abi Silver has carved a niche exploring the moral and practical issues thrown up by technology, and how the law responds.
Previous novels have covered liedetectors and robot surgeons. It is an area that clearly fascinates her — she is a lawyer herself, and brings a wealth of knowledge to bear. And if images of dusty law books spring to mind, don’t worry — Silver is adept at turning complex legal debate into compelling legal thrillers.
After the initial drama of the accident, she applies the brakes a little heavily perhaps as the action slows to introduce various characters — the insecure young executive who is attracted to the entrepreneur’s manipulative, ex-model wife; the sinister fixer from the Ministry of Transport pulling the strings in the background. But the pace accelerates once the trial starts. Courtroom drama is Silver’s strength, and the verbal duelling between Burton and the prosecuting counsel is particularly entertaining.
This is the third outing for Burton and Lamb, and they work well as an odd-couple pairing — the cantankerous barrister with all the tricks of her trade but lacking the people skills her callow colleague has in spades.
Shame then that their individual private lives, which helped make them such rounded characters in the previous novels, are barely glimpsed here.
That aside, if The Cinderella Plan finds its way on to your holiday reading list, expect to deliver a favourable verdict.
The verbal duels between barristers is particularly entertaining
Alan Montague is a freelance writer