Skip to main content

Blood Orange


Blood Orange

Midway through BLOOD ORANGE, a riveting thriller by English barrister Harriet Tyce, Alison finds herself with a few spare moments before going to sleep. “I read for a while,” she informs readers, “a thriller about a toxic marriage in which everything is breaking down, and I smile. That’s not us anymore.” I’m uncertain what one would call this literary moment, but I won’t worry, as it’s an appropriate description of Tyce’s first novel. Appropriate, that is, until all hell breaks loose and readers experience a wild journey through the marriage of Alison and Charles. Along the way, Alison battles in the Old Bailey, the English criminal court, as she defends Madeline Smith, who has admitted to murdering her husband and would love to plead guilty.

While many may already be aware of how British and American lawyers differ, a brief primer is required in this review. In Great Britain, the legal system has barristers and solicitors. Generally, barristers prepare a case for trial, while solicitors perform the actual courtroom maneuvers. Alison is a solicitor, and she works with her barrister, Patrick Saunders, in her defense of Madeline. Readers of legal fiction are familiar with characters similar to Alison, the broken-down trial attorney who drinks far too much, attends to family matters far too little, and struggles with a life and career that is careening towards disaster. The major difference here is that the individual in question is a woman, but that really does not change the calculation.

"The final confrontation between Alison and Charles becomes a roller coaster ride of plot twists and emotional highs and lows that will have readers wondering how exactly the story will end."

The Smith case will be Alison’s first venture as lead counsel in a murder trial, which obviously is a giant boost to her legal career. But there are some difficulties ahead. Patrick is more than her barrister, he is also her lover. Their client conferences and strategy sessions frequently end in romantic liaisons --- in chambers, train bathrooms and other sordid locations. Alison often finds herself placing her daughter, Matilda, and her family life second to her assignations with Patrick. Attempting to assuage Charles, a part-time psychotherapist and stay-at-home dad, she turns to wine and gin for comfort --- obviously a dangerous mix.

In her debut, Tyce has told her story in a fashion similar to John Grisham, who knows how to write courtroom fiction. Grisham’s characters are often attorneys, but the legal cornerstone of the plot is typically not as important as the mystery or thriller portion of the book. In BLOOD ORANGE, Alison could be a physician, accountant or advertising executive, and the suspense aspect would be equally mesmerizing. The courtroom scenes are certainly well-written and legally sound, but they are only a subpart of the plot. This is not meant to be a criticism; many legal-themed novels do not focus on the courtroom.

As Alison and Charles battle through the difficulties of their marriage, and as other surprising events are introduced into the story, the murder case facing Madeline is almost forgotten. The final confrontation between Alison and Charles becomes a roller coaster ride of plot twists and emotional highs and lows that will have readers wondering how exactly the story will end. But end it does, and as BLOOD ORANGE comes to a conclusion, there will be some questions to ponder. Tyce has left a few thoughts and issues on the table that hopefully will be resolved in future novels.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on February 22, 2019

Blood Orange
by Harriet Tyce