REVIEW: The Brief by Simon Michael (Charles Holborne #1)

Series: Charles Holborne

Book Number: 1

Read this book for: legal thriller, 60s London, semi-historical, this time it’s personal, wrongfully accused, amateur detective, corrupt cops

Quick Review: Vivid atmosphere, a great story and a wade range of people, places and parts of society; THE BRIEF is an extremely fascinating dual thriller.


1960s London – gang wars, corrupt police, vice and pornography – ex-boxer, Charles Holborne, has plenty of opportunities to build his reputation with the criminal classes as a barrister who delivers. But Holborne, an East End boy made good, is not all he seems, and his past is snapping at his heels. When his philandering wife has her throat slashed, Holborne finds himself on the wrong side of the law and on the run, back in the only place he thought he’d be safe, the East End. But now he’s got caught in the middle of a turf war between the Kray twins and the Yardies. Can Holborne stay one step ahead of the police and the real murderer, discover the truth and escape the hangman?

THE BRIEF is the first in Simon Michael’s series following criminal barrister Charles Holborne in his practice in 60s London. Michael brings the atmosphere to life, and tells a great thriller while doing it.

This novel is the first in the series, and — without spoiling anything — there are some major changes to Charles’ life during this novel that will probably impact fairly heavily on future instalments. I would recommend that you definitely pick this one up before you embark on the rest of the series.

However, there is no hardship in reading this one. One of the strongest points of this novel is how well Michael manages to evoke a believable feeling of London in the 60s, in many different forms — from the posh boys’ clubs to the seedy nightclubs to the bustle of the legal profession. His descriptions are sparing, but are more than enough to place you in the story without feeling like an exposition overload. Michael also boosts the historical realism with references to major criminals and criminal events of the time, such as mentions of the Great Train Robbery, and several brushes with the Kray twins (for a review of a book about their lives, click here).

This novel is billed as a legal thriller, but I would actually call it a thriller in two parts — the first is the legal thriller part, with Charles showcasing some of his practical brilliance at trials, working against corruption in the justice system. The second part is a fugitive thriller, as the tables are turned and Charles becomes a wanted criminal for a crime he didn’t commit, on the run from the corrupt officers he has previously worked against. It’s a nice blend, and keeps the novel from feeling stagnant, or like any other legal thriller.

The other nice blend is the range of characters that you meet in the novel. Charles is in an interesting position, dealing with the highest and lowest echelons of society, and his own background reflects an interesting social mobility, as a Jewish man from the East End who married a member of the nobility and became a lawyer. It’s a great way for Michael to explore some more sensitive issues about the social stratification inherent in the novel and allows you to get a glimpse into many different corners of life in those days.

THE BRIEF is a great read with a great atmosphere, and definitely one that you should pick up if you have any interest in London in the 60s!

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