The Defence Does Not Rest (1959) by Edna Sherry

Earlier last month Stark House Press reprinted this novel, alongside another Sherry mystery, No Questions Asked (1949), so I thought it was an opportune moment to delve into my TBR pile for my Hodder & Stoughton copy of The Defence Does Not Rest. I was keen to read this book as I thoroughly enjoyed Sudden Fear (1948), which is a brilliant, inverted mystery, which Richard Hull or Francis Iles would have been proud of.

Synopsis

‘A man was awaiting trial for murder. Motive, opportunity and the most damning evidence had convicted him in the eyes of the world; his lawyer had no hope that a jury would be more lenient. The defence would be a mockery unless some clue to the mystery could be found in the prisoner’s past.’

Hodder and Stoughton

‘When his best friend, Max Gray, is accused of murder, Stephen Hargrave knows that his father will be the lawyer who represents him. He also knows that even though Max isn’t capable of murder, the evidence is stacked against him. So, dispensing with his own scruples, he pushes for the whole story from Max—the story of his rescue in Korea by the charming and brilliant Larry Bellair; his marriage to the cold, calculating Carol; his new-found love with Larry’s sister Avery. It doesn’t look good for Max. He had every reason in the world to commit murder. He is the first to admit it. But somewhere in his story there must be a clue to the real killer. No one else had a motive, so who could it be?’

Stark House Press

Overall Thoughts

This mystery works in a similar way to many of the crime stories Pat McGerr wrote, as it relies upon an extensive retrospective narrative from which the reader must figure out the answer to a key question. With McGerr this question was sometimes focused more on who the murderee was going to be, but in Sherry’s mystery, the question centres on the identity of the real killer of Carol. Max’s legal team are far from happy with his defence. The circumstantial evidence is overwhelming and Max himself seems unable to provide any leads. Edward Hargrave is in charge of defending him and he tasks his son, Steve, who was a childhood friend, with talking to Max for a week, writing everything down as Max goes back over his adult life. It is Steve’s report which contains the retrospective narrative and this comprises most of the book.

Disconcertingly this report is written like a normal 3rd person narrated novel. It contains no typographical features or language, which you might associate with a report. There is no mention of the present day, of Steve interjecting a question or any points during which we can see Steve dialoguing with Max, trying to win his confidence. I felt this increasingly became a less successful writing tool, as the long flashback approach slows down the pace, and it doesn’t come across as dynamic or as on the edge of your seat as Sudden Fear. It is a convenient framing device but maybe not the most satisfying one for the reader. This is a shame as I think the novel does include some hallmark twists by Sherry, in particular there is one which is cleverly misdirected away from. However, whilst the denouement is intended to be a dramatic showdown, with twists and turns, it felt flat to me. Perhaps the lead characters had not been on the page enough, or maybe the cast of characters was too small to make this mystery as surprising as it could have been. I think it needed more powerful characterisation and to be more emotionally gripping to have the same impact as Sudden Fear.

Rating: 3.75/5

See also: Aubrey and Dead Yesterday have also reviewed this title.

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