Postmedia review of Whipped by Joan Barfoot: Deverell whips tension into page-turning treat
These are strange times — strange enough that it’s actually hard to know if a video of a Canadian cabinet minister fervently and nakedly urging a Russian dominatrix to whip him would necessarily cause a career-ending scandal.
But if it’s a question, it’s one best pursued through the mind and efforts of Canadian crime fiction’s most entertainingly skeptical lawyer, Arthur Beauchamp (pronounced Beecham), and his creator, former journalist and trial lawyer William Deverell.
Beauchamp, a recovering alcoholic, has been trying through several novels to enjoy a bucolic retirement on B.C.’s Garibaldi Island, tending his little farm and sinking into a community of distinctly unusual characters.
The trouble is, thanks to his fame as not just a shambling mess but a weirdly successful lawyer at a big, rich Vancouver firm, he keeps being lured back to tackle irresistible cases.
And in Whipped, the case is more vital than most, since his client is his second wife, Margaret, outspoken leader of the federal Green Party, who spends most of her time in Ottawa fiercely battling anyone with a good word for a pipeline.
That naturally puts her in direct conflict with Calgary MP and Conservative environment minister, Emil Farquist, a large man with unusual private desires.
The novel doesn’t start, though, with either Arthur or Margaret, but with Lou Sabatino, a journalist under witness protection after revealing a major scandal involving Montreal waterfront contracts, leading to a Mafia effort to kill him.
He and his wife and two little kids are now stuck in a shabby second-floor Montreal apartment safe house, bickering unhappily and forced to listen to unseemly sounds rising from the apartment downstairs.
When the leggy Russian dominatrix in that apartment decides Lou’s the person to help her make some money from her encounters with one high-profile client, she shows him the video that sets the plot racing forward.
Unnoticed, Lou makes a copy that for assorted reasons he decides to share with Margaret. Who, oblivious to the dangers of a hot mic, shares a tidbit or two with her assistant at a conference, remarks that are picked up by a hostile reporter.
And so it passes that Emil Farquist launches a $50 million lawsuit against her, ensuring that Arthur will have to use all his resources to save not only Margaret but all their assets, not least their Garibaldi Island retreat.
Given that the dominatrix has vanished, he needs to find Lou Sabatino and his copy of the video starring Farquist, but Lou has also hit the road, abandoned by his family, broke, jobless, and still fearful of the Mafia.
Garibaldi Island, meanwhile, has been invaded by a horde of followers of a charismatic guru type claiming to offer peace and self-understanding.
As islanders also fall under his influence, it seems that Arthur’s retreat is under spiritual as well as financial threat.
So there’s plenty of entertaining tension on the island among its dependably vivid characters to hold Arthur’s attention during his down-times.
And despite her long absences, an Ottawa affair she earlier confessed to, and a dangerously impulsive nature, Margaret holds his affections.
His regard for her isn’t without dents and tensions, but it’s firm.
Arthur always enjoys a good legal battle of wits — anything involving wits, really — and while the plot of Whipped hits a couple of unlikely spots, the whole array of characters, variously clever, shrewd, bumbling, wicked, corrupt and amusing, makes just about every page a treat.
But the special treat, thanks to author Deverell, is always Arthur Beauchamp, the wary-eyed curmudgeon who keeps trying hard to be not just the best lawyer, but the best man he can be.