Review | Denial, by Beverley McLachlin

DenialCoverI love legal thrillers — John Grisham was my entry into adult novels — so when I saw that a former Chief Justice of Canada had written one, I was eager to check it out.

Criminal defense lawyer Jilly Truitt is hired to defend Vera Quentin, a woman accused of killing her chronically ill mother. Vera’s mom is on record as having requested medically assisted death from her daughter multiple times, and the general consensus is that Vera finally gave in. Vera’s husband thinks she should just go for a plea deal, but Vera refuses to confess to the crime.

As a legal thriller, Denial is a solid novel. The court case at the core of the story was interesting, and the author’s experience in the courtroom offers interesting glimpses into how court cases unfold in Canada. I also like the insights into lawyers’ strategies, and how moments that, to my layperson brain, seemed fairly innocuous, may actually impact legal matters. The mystery itself was also nice and twisty. The reveals, as they unfolded, took me by surprise, and it was nice to look back at the end, and see events with the truth in mind.

That being said, I found the writing a bit dry, and as much as I liked the glimpses into the Canadian legal system during the courtroom scenes, the book never quite hooked me. Part of it was that there was too much going on beyond the main story, but little room to establish the emotional heft necessary to make these subplots mean anything. I was honestly surprised to find out that this was only the second novel in the Jilly Truitt series, since these subplots and their respective payoffs all felt like the culmination of multiple novels’ worth of build-up.

We get a glimpse of some of the other cases that Jilly’s working on, and how they intersect with her personal life in some significant ways. There are also some truly dramatic moments that would create lasting impact on Jilly’s life. But while I understood on an intellectual level why these storylines are urgent, they never quite pulled me in. Which is a shame, because I think there’s rich material in the storyline about Jilly’s second chance romance, and also in the drama between her and the prosecutor, which is tangentially connected to a past story about her biological father. There was also a subplot about a criminal Jilly defended, and a young woman in danger, which keeps Jilly up at night, and also intersects tangentially with the central case because of its timing. All of this has the potential to be fascinating, but the execution fell flat for me.

With the central case, I also found the focus on denial to be somewhat tiresome after a while. Jilly muses several times about the possibility that Vera is in denial about having killed her mom, but that felt thin to me. Why jump through so many psychological hoops to come up with the possibility that Vera’s in deep denial, when there are other, easier, and more logical conclusions to draw? While I can appreciate that Jilly’s job does require her to jump through all those mental hoops, it just felt implausible, and it was a struggle to keep suspending disbelief just to stay in sync with the Jilly’s mindset. All to say — denial as a motif felt like a stretch to me, and having it come up so often felt forced.

Denial unfortunately fell flat for me, but I did enjoy the glimpse into the Canadian legal system, and Canadian courtrooms. And like I said, I didn’t predict the big reveal behind the crime, and, while I wish the novel had delved a bit more into the complexity of the ethics around medical assistance in dying, I liked that it tackled such a complex topic in the first place.

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Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for an e-galley in exchange for an honest review.

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