From The Book Nook
August, September, October, November, December
2005 Book Review
This Fatal Writ by Sara Woods
Copyright 1979 by Sara Woods
St. Martin's Press, Inc.
Tuesday, 12th October, 1971
"I have some reason to trust you, Mr. Maitland," said Sir Leonard
Bowling in his precise way; and considering what had transpired
the last time they met in court that was an admission verging on
the magnanimous. "So naturally, when this distressing business
came up, I thought of you."
"Naturally." If there was a hint of dryness in Antony Maitland's
tone, it was not too apparent. "I believe, however, you heard
"Bellerby told me your clerk had refused the brief." Sir Leonard's
tone set that aside as of little account. "I thought perhaps, if I saw
you myself ...and you aren't a man, I take it, to be offended by an
"Hardly." Maitland's amusement was a little more evident now.
"I've seen what the papers had to say about the matter, yours
included." And that was the trouble, of course, it was something
he had no desire to be mixed up in. Still, he liked what he knew of
Sir Leonard, was even to some extent obliged to him; better not
send him away unheard. "If you could give me a little more detail,"
he added encouragingly, and was immediately assailed by a doubt
as to the fitness of offering any such incentive.
"As far as I'm concerned, it all came up out of a clear sky when
Charlton was arrested."
"He's being charged under the Official Secrets Act." Maitland
"That's right, and I still don't know precisely...but that's beside the
point." Sir Leonard, the owner and publisher of The Courier, was a
man well used to getting his own way, and there could be no doubt
that his ignorance in this instance left him feeling aggrieved. "All I
do know is that it concerns some Top Secret project at the Fenton
Laboratory. Charlton, who I'm told is a good investigative reporter---
they will tag these labels on to people nowadays, at one time that
would have been taken for granted---Charlton--I was saying, got
hold of some item of information from one of the technicians, and
is alleged to have passed it on to a friend of his attached to the
"I thought all the subversive elements there had been weeded out.
Over a hundred of them were expelled last month, according to the
account I read."
"One hundred and five," said Sir Leonard, still precise. "But I don't
for a moment think either of us is so naive as to believe there
wouldn't be others to take their place." Maitland made no comment
on that, just nodded his agreement. "Anyway, there it is. This fellow
is a third secretary or something, nothing very important, no reason
why Charlton shouldn't have made a friend of him. Only now it's
awkward, you see."
"I do indeed." Jenny Maitland would have said he was wearing his
"m'lud, I object," expression, and certainly her husband, who could
find amusement in most things and had started out by taking the
matter lightly, was finding as the interview progressed nothing
humorous in the situation at all. "Charlton," he said now,
"Harry Charlton, isn't it? Do you know him well?"
"I know him by sight, of course. I know him to say "good morning"
to. I've had good reports of his ability. Nothing more than that."
"At least, then, you're not going to tell me, "he wouldn't do a thing
like that", said Maitland hopefully.
"No, though he himself insists--" But he was interrupted there by
Maitland, who said flatly:
"Then I don't quite see--forgive me--what your interest is in the
"He's an employee, I feel a certain responsibility."
"But if he's really been selling secrets to the Russians--"
"That has not been proved."
"Not yet. He admits he had this...information?"
"So I understand."
"But still you think he's innocent?"
Sir Leonard made an oddly indecisive gesture. "I don't know;" he a
dmitted. "But I very much hope...frankly, Mr. Maitland, I don't want
another scandal. It's only a few months since Laurence was
"Yes, he was a Courier man too, wasn't he?" A fact he very well
remembered. "But the cases are so very different, nobody's going
to make the connection."
"Don't you think so? It was strange, in all the circumstances, that he
could speak of the affair so lightly. Well, perhaps not lightly exactly,
but almost casually. Not quite a year since Lady Bowling--the
beautiful Lady Bowling, as the newspapers inevitably described her,
and this time with some truth--was brutally strangled and dumped
from a car in a side street near Covent Garden. But Sir Leonard, he
knew, was a man with a strong sense of duty and capable, in a good
cause, of disregarding his own feelings to a quite uncanny degree.
The question was, of course, how good was his cause in the present
instance? Somehow Maitland doubted...
"If the chap really has been peddling secrets--" he said, very much as
he had said before, and let the sentence remain uncompleted. And
then, as his companion made no further protest, "Mallory has already
refused the brief, hasn't he? Frankly, I don't feel inclined to reverse
"I was afraid of that." Sir Leonard sounded resigned, but he wasn't
finished yet. "You, of all people, won't tell me that the police never
make mistakes." And that, though he couldn't know it, was nearer
the bone than Maitland liked.
All the same, he answered with very little change of tone. "No, I
won't tell you that, though I imagine this is the Special Branch,
don't you? But it would be difficult, almost impossible, to make
an independent investigation, and once I'd done so I might find
myself committed to a client I believed guilty. And of this
particular offense---" He broke off there, and this time
Sir Leonard leaped ino the conversational gap with
something like enthusiasm.
"Take the brief, work to Bellerby's instructions. You needn't do
more than that."
Maitland smiled. "You're asking me to get him off, guilty or
"I don't suppose you've thought it out quite so clearly as that,
but that's what it amounts to. I don't know what sort of a case
the defense has got--"
"Bellerby seems worried."
"-but if it's an advocate you want I could name you half a dozen
men far more eloquent than I."
"I know. He has a phrase he uses when he wants me to get
into something "way over my head". He talks about my
"special talents"; my uncle is blunter, he calls it meddling.
But under either name I don't feel inclined to get involved in
Perhaps it was the finality in his tone that convinced his
visitor. Sir Leonard got to his feet slowly, Maitland with
more alacrity. "It's the hint of treachery that bothers you,
isn't it?" said Bowling. "Yet I seem to remember that once
before you were involved in a treason trial."
"That was...quite different." But he didn't like the reminder,
there had been some heartache about that case before it
was over. "The defence to start with was mistaken identity,
and by the time its nature changed I'd come to believe what
my client had to say about himself. But I don't know Harry
"And you don't want to," said Sir Leonard ruefully; and uncanny
echo of what Maitland would like to have said if a certain regard
for the conventions hadn't stopped him. "Well, it can't be helped,
"Talk to Bellerby again," Maitland urged, coming round the desk,
"he's bound to have somebody in mind."
"I'll do that." Sir Leonard began to move towards the door, "I'm
grateful to you for giving me so much of your time, Mr. Maitland."
Antony went with him to the door of chambers and watched him
for a moment until he disappeared round a bend in the staircase;
an erect, grey-haired figure, almost obsessively neat in his dress.
It was a pity not to be able to oblige him, but Maitland found in
himself no ambition at all to get involved in Harry Charlton's
Returning, he made for his uncle's room. "Can you tell me,
Uncle Nick, why does Mallory always insist on my taking on
matters I've no time for?"
"If you want to enough, you can make time for anything," said
Sir Nicholas Harding, sitting back in his chair and removing his
"I didn't mean that, I meant--"
"I know. You were speaking colloquially, as you so often do."
Sir Nicholas sighed, as though all the troubles of the world had
suddenly come to rest on his shoulders. "What is it this time?"
"Bellerby's brief on behalf of that journalist. Mallory said "no",
but he can't have sounded as if he meant it, because I've just
had Sir Leonard Bowling here badgering me to take it on after
"I cannot believe that Sir Leonard's approach would have been
anything but dignified." Sir Nicholas, recently returned from a
protracted honeymoon in Switzerland and in his person
almost as neat as the recent visitor, had already reduced the
papers on his desk to as shambles. Now he picked a
document on stiff blue paper from a so-far-un-touched pile,
looked at it with every appearance of intelligence for a
moment, and then added it to the confusion on his blotting
pad. His nephew, who had a casual manner and preferred,
when not professionally engaged, a casual style of dress,
resisted the temptation to replace it where it came from
and said, as though unwillingly:
"He was everything of the most correct."
"He may have felt you owed him some special
"He did me a favour, that's true, but--damn it all!--he wanted
to know who murdered his wife as much as I did."
"Probably more," Sir Nicholas admitted. "I take it you are
telling me you refused his request."
"Are you really so busy?"
"It could have been fitted in. Mallory pointed that out to me in
no uncertain terms."
"What is it then that makes the matter so distasteful to you?"
"One of his reporters has stumbled on something on the
secret list, and passed it on to a pal in the Russian Embassy."
"Then I must congradulate you, for once, on your strength of
mind," said Sir Nicholas cordially. "Let us celebrate by going
home at once, my dear boy. I believe that Jenny is expecting
Vera and myself, as well as you, for dinner."
"It's Tuesday," said Antony simply. It would take more than
his uncle's marriage to alter a tradition that had been
established for many years.
"And if I'm not mistaken we'll find Vera upstairs already," he
added. "I'll just get my coat."
This ends the 1st Chapter of this months Book Review titled:
This Fatal Writ by Sara Woods.
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