I abandon more comic fiction than any other type of book. The joke wears thin or depends on crudeness. So reading the first in a series of comic/satiric novels and immediately picking up the second is a unique experience for me. Yet that is exactly what happened with The BabyBarista Files.
Tim Kevan practised as a barrister in London for ten years. So he knows the score. Any scurrilous insinuations that may be made during the course of this review are based solely on those in his novels and though he names his characters based solely on their dominant characteristic, I have absolutely no doubt that his characters are amalgams of real people. Cue a few examples from the cast list: BabyBarista – a young Flashman meets Rumpole meets Francis Urquhart for the 21st century; Oldruin – How a barrister should be. Dumbledore meets Clarence, the angel in It’s A Wonderful Life.; TheBoss – BabyB’s first pupilmaster. Unscrupulous, spineless coward; SlipperySlope – Solicitor skilled in the creative art of billing.
If, like me, you are as cynical about the legal profession as you are about politicians (see footnote 1), then you will find BabyBarista and the Art of War (now republished as Law and Disorder ) a complete blast. (Though I’ll issue a warning to those who may consider the female portraits sexist: Uptights: BabyB’s pupilmistress for his second six months who was almost called Botucks for the work she has had done. Insists on boundaries and personal space. Has “issues”. or TheVamp – tennant in chambers and a walking innuendo.)
In the first novel, BabyBarista and 3 fellow pupil barristers have arrived in chambers and have one year in which to make a mark. Only one of them will be awarded tenancy (permanent position). This is a competition (though the rules mean it remains undeclared) and BabyBarista, whose mother has incurred huge debts in the cause of his education, is determined to win that tenancy by foul means or fouler. His strategy is based on Sun Tzu’s The Art of War (To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.) So he systematically and creatively takes out his competition. Then again, he is learning from masters. There are no flies on the barristers who are training him and it is his misfortune to have the TheBoss (if I’m going down, you’re going with me) as his first pupilmaster. BabyBarista’s career may be finished before it has even begun.
But, of course, BabyBarista wins this battle. There is, after all, a second novel. Success, however, comes at a price. BabyBarista now has a sworn enemy, TopFirst, a former fellow pupil who was laid low during the campaign for tenancy. TopFirst is out for revenge and so the battle escalates into fully-fledged war. In many ways though BabyBarista is his own worst enemy. His need for money (to pay off those debts) means he overworks himself and loses relationships that mean a lot to him. Yet he still finds time to fight a lost cause through a sincere desire to do good. Even then he cannot help compromising his principles by playing dirty.
What are we to make of him? Indeed what are we to make of the always archaic, sometimes quaint and frequently absurd practices of the English Bar or the dark arts of litigation? Kevan has certainly created an entertaining and illuminating franchise. For me the first novel is stronger than the second which began to fall (quite unnecessarily) into that trap I mentioned earlier – an over-reliance on double-entendre and sexual innuendo. (In fact one of the characters echoed my thoughts by beginning to whinge about it.) Apart from that though no other moans. I thoroughly enjoyed the time spent with BabyB (as he is known to his friends) and I know I’ll be spending more with him in the future.
Even if there is no third, fourth or fifth book (please Mr Kevan, write more!), I’ll be keeping both books to reread whenever I need cheering up. Who needs prozac?
(Footnote 1: blog readership exempted from all my cynicism!)