Expanded from his BabyBarista Times blog, this first novel from Tim Kevan is an uproarious diary of intrigue, backstabbing and dubious moral attitudes, set in the allegedly morally upstanding world of law courts and Chambers. BabyBarista himself is a Machiavellian young pupil barrister whose early claims of naivety are quickly rubbished when it becomes clear that he will stop at nothing to ensure he, and not one of the other four pupils in his chambers, is granted tenancy at the end of the year.
BabyBarista’s first pupilmaster, known simply as TheBoss, hands him a copy of ‘The Art of War’ by Sun Tzu on his first day but it is clear from the off that nobody is going to put Baby in a corner anyway. Without the ancient strategic text, Kevan’s narrator would have been a formidable enough proposition; armed with it he acts out ever-darker and underhand schemes to achieve his ends. Nonetheless, BabyBarista remains charming and entertaining enough throughout to guarantee we’re still rooting for him come the denouement. This is, in part, due to his wry observations on the pomp and circumstance which lays like a veil over British legal proceedings. Why wear 200 year out of date wigs and gowns in court, he wonders, when modern defendants might have more faith in somebody wearing a superhero outfit? Why should prosecution and defence counsels spend hours arguing to and fro to reach an out-of-court settlement when they can decide the matter with a quick game of Battleships and spend the rest of the day drinking champagne?
There are shades of Francis Urquhart, echoes of Yes Minister’s Sir Humphrey and a degree of Iago to this would-be-Rumpole, but many of the external cultural references are actually drawn from television comedy. One of the most entertaining scenes consists of BabyBarista’s pre-courtroom war of words with a more experienced counsel he refers to as TheCreep. TheCreep attempts to undermine Baby’s confidence by haranguing him on the train heading for their court appearance, but is rebuffed at every turn by the Catherine Tate catchphrase ‘Bothered.’ Worryingly, this episode and many others are told so convincingly that I began to pray I never need defending by a junior, or even senior barrister. Some of Kevan’s counsels do not appear to come armed to the battle of wits that is crosscourt debate.
As the novel rattles towards deadline day pretty much every character either falls apart, usually as a result of BabyBarista’s machinations, or reveals themselves to be even more loathsome than they first appeared. With one notable exception. OldRuin is unmistakably the conscience of the piece, full of avuncular advice and driven by an awareness that life is not about avoiding mistakes or behaving perfectly, it is about what we learn from our errors of judgement, morally as well as practically. Without this virtually lone advocate of human decency the novel would be less effective and our sympathies for BabyBarista himself might falter, the more he becomes embroiled in smearing his rivals. What OldRuin allows the reader to understand, however, is that Baby might not need throwing out with the bath water; he just might realise that skulduggery can only get him so far. Is he redeemable? Quite possibly, but then, a rehabilitated BabyBarista would rule out any possibility of a sequel, wouldn’t he?
Tightly written, interspersed with enough out-of-chambers action to keep the layman riveted, peppered with keenly-observed, if rarely likeable characters, and genuinely laugh-out-loud funny in places, Tim Kevan’s debut is an absolute delight.