You guys know that I’m in my last year of law school (ABOUT FUCKING TIME) and it’s finals coming up and I SHOULD be writing a paper, but Sarah knows very well that I usually do reviews when I’m avoiding writing. Or studying. Or doing anything I really should be doing. SO HERE I AM and I’m also a little (a lot) unhinged (which totally should be the title of Courtney’s next book).
Anyway, so I got an advance copy of Unraveled in a giveaway during the Sizzling Not Summer Book Club chat and there was pressure for a review and here we are because Smite is AWESOME and I LOVE HIM and Miranda is FANTASTIC and also I really don’t want to write this stupid paper. SO HERE WE GO.
(Told you. Unhinged.)
This is the third book in the Turner brothers trilogy- the three boys had a mother who was not the most stable of people, and the all reacted to her abuse in different ways. Smite was nearly killed by her, and has a distinct lack of trust for people. He’s a magistrate in Bristol, and even though his older brother is a Duke (long story, you can find it in Unveiled), he lives a simple, rather austere life and is known as Lord Justice.
Our heroine is Miranda, who was, as she says a lot, “raised by actors” and does favors in exchange for protection and whatnot for the local mob boss, known as The Patron. She meets Smite (officially) when she goes to the petty sessions to be an alibi witness for a kid- the Patron asked her to. Having been raised by actors, she has a facility with disguises, wigs, costuming and accents. Smite, however, has an eidetic memory and recognized her from previous stints as a witness.
So she gets under his skin, as the heroine is wont to do, and he manages to find out where she lives on the Wrong Side of Town, and shows up on her doorstep, and her ward (Robbie) clonks him over the head with a poker. As you do. Smite decides that nothing else will do but to set her up as his mistress and give Robbie an apprenticeship as a shipwright.
“I’m not proposing a one-time liaison. You’ll have a house. Servants. New clothing.”
She rolled her eyes. “Oh, Lord Justice, you do know how to woo a woman. Tell me more.”
Seriously, I don’t want to spoil things, and that’s hard. Also I’m in the middle of finals. So my brain is mushy.
So what I loved about this book, as the brain-dead law student I am, is all the legal shit which made laugh and laugh and giggle. In the initial petty session where we see Smite doing his Lord Justice act, a man has been summoned on a charge of public drunkenness, but also set his daughter’s woodshed on fire. The man tries to put forth the defense of “I was drunk, I didn’t know what I was doing!” and Smite replies,
”Under the rule of Lord Hale, a man who becomes voluntarily drunk is responsible for his actions, the same as if he were sober.”
Or, when Miranda explains her role in The Patron’s empire:
“Oh no, I never stole anything. Or hurt anyone. There may have been a time or two while someone else did something, but I personally never did anything wrong.” Her tone seemed easy, but she watched him carefully.
He winced. “I don’t think I wanted to know that. I suppose now is not the time to acquaint you with the complicated doctrine of vicarious criminal liability?”
It’s usually never the time to bring that up, Smite. But god, did I laugh.
(Was I not supposed to find that funny? I can’t even tell any more.)
Both characters had traits that I really admired, and avoided tropes that get tiresome. I fully expected that the patron was going to ask Miranda to do stuff to get information about Lord Justice or something and angst would ensue. Instead Miranda tells him about the Patron straight off. There’s no build up of unnecessary drama because she won’t tell him things. Which leaves plenty of room for all the necessary drama.
”I assumed I would be better off telling you about this, rather than waiting for the entire thing to blow up in my face. You did ask for honesty, after all. It seemed to be a matter of basic common sense. When one is threatened by a shadowy criminal figure, one goes to the magistrate that shares one’s bed rather than the shadowy criminal figure.
But, and here’s where Unraveled works for me, it’s a really fascinating study of the differences between judicial discretion and mandatory minimums. Smite believes very firmly that the law should apply as written- but first he must get ALL the relevant facts. The other magistrates will more or less do as the constables ask, and not bother with questioning people too much. It’s fascinating to me because it’s SUCH a relevant issue- mandatory minimums make for great sound bites and look simple on paper, but once applied to people, I very firmly believe they cause much more harm than good.
Judicial discretion in sentencing puts a lot of power in the hands of judges, it’s true. You do get disparities in sentencing that are, at time, pretty egregious. And there are some judges I’ve been in front of this semester doing bail arguments that I don’t like what they do with the power they have. But that’s what advocacy by lawyers is FOR- to put the human being in front of the judge, and not a column of numbers.
(I seriously loved the work I had in my internship with the public defender’s office in Boston, and I am currently waiting to see if I’ll get an interview. ~shameless plug~ Please cross your fingers for me.)
(I could go on a diatribe about the inequality of sentencing for non-violent drug offense, and how the prison industrial complex has basically created a new form of slavery, and the moniker of being “soft on crime” has scared away any politician who could DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT from even approaching the issue, but let us just assume those things have been said, shall we?)
Sorry. I say things.
Smite does what he does because he can’t bear the thought of second-guessing himself.
So far as I can tell, there are only three ways to shoulder that burden. My way is this: Even though I may be in error, I never allow myself to doubt what I have done. That way lies endless recrimination.”
“What are the other two ways?”
“Pretend the people before you aren’t human,” he responded smoothly. “Then it doesn’t matter if you make a muck of things.”
“Or you can go stark raving mad. Neither of those two options appeals to me.”
What I loved about Miranda is her willingness to not dance around and be all like “oh, should I tell him about the threats and blackmail and try and keep my sordid past a secret?” No, she tells him, straight out. She won’t argue with him about stupid shit, because he “wins arguments by profession.” Also, she’s a scathing theater critic. He takes her to a play, and it’s TERRIBLE and she’s making snarky comments, and he apologizes for making a mess of an evening, and she says, “I was enjoying myself. It was that kind of awful.”
Given that Miranda has red hair and says things like this, I am taking that as a personal shout-out. PLEASE DO NOT DISABUSE ME OF THIS NOTION. It’s finals. Don’t be mean.
Finally, the through lines from the previous books about the Turner brothers are delightful. Ash and Smite and Mark have a lot of shit that needs sorting. Also, Mark gave Smite a puppy in Unclaimed, and Ghost is a fantastic character in and of his own puppy-self. We get a little more of the Turner-Dalrymple drama from Oxford. A little bit more about Mark and Ash’s families now that they’ve grown up and gotten married.
I’ll just end with Miranda’s summation of their story: “It’s a sweet tale, about kittens and puppies and rainbows and love.” Yes, yes it is. And also lawyers.