Published by Bethany House on August 3, 2021
Genres: Fiction, Christian, Historical, Mystery
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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.
Historical fiction rises and falls with the author’s ability to convey the historical settings in a way just unfamiliar enough to leave the reading hanging on every work, but also just familiar enough that they aren’t lost amid a different world. It’s a delicate balance and one that Todd Johnson pulls off with precision and excellence. The Barrister and the Letter of Marque is a legal thriller set in Regency-era London. While this setting isn’t uncommon in Christian fiction, it tends to be relegated to romance. Johnson instead weaves a compelling mystery about a captain accused of piracy whose defense is that he had been employed by the Crown to repossess stolen goods. Of course, that Letter of Marque has gone missing.
The perfect barrister (lawyer) for the case is one William Snopes, who was raised a wealthy aristocrat, but walked away from it all to advocate for the poor against the powerful. Known for his lack of decorum but undeniable success, Snopes is the one man who might be able to convince a jury that the captain acted in good faith. But the System—with a capital S—is against him, and Snopes soon discovers evidence of a conspiracy that goes to the heights of the halls of power.
The Barrister and the Letter of Marque is exquisitely-written. Johnson immerses his readers in the world of early 1800s England, expertly drawing out comparison and contrasts between modern-day and two hundred years ago. We might be a little more humane in our prison systems (or are we?) but the rich and powerful gaming the system to make themselves even more rich and powerful is an unfortunately timeless theme. Snopes is an intensely likable character—something of a powder-wigged Jake Brigance or a more ethical Saul Goodman. And the book’s mystery is layered and well-hidden, yet all the pieces come together with clarity and precision. Something the issue with a mystery novel is that the author withholds information from the reader and then the mystery is solved when the thing you didn’t know becomes known. Johnson gives readers everything that needs to be known, we have all the pieces. So, when things come together, it really is an ah-ha! moment as you see the pieces that have been there all along begin to take shape. The Barrister and the Letter of Marque was my first Todd Johnson novel, but certainly won’t be my last.