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Most murder mysteries are set up so that we and the detectives are searching for the killer, but here, we know who the killer is, and we're wondering if he's going to get caught. Not only that, but we know that the guy who's up on the murder charge is being framed. Will he get done for something he didn't do, and will the real murderer crack under the strain of guilt? These are the questions that keep us reading, and Mr Cooke writes his characters so well that I felt deeply for both Elton and Jim. Could they both get out of this mess without going to jail for life? On top of that, the girl who ends up in a sack in the ocean, is a bit of a mystery herself, and we only fill in the missing pieces with a delightful and totally unexpected twist near the end. So it's different. It's also well-written, no sluggish passive writing here, the prose has you right in the action, and there's nothing extraneous, just as a good book should be.
And the statements? They're about mental health and the justice system. Elton, the accused, is mentally challenged (is that the correct term these days?) and is easily manipulated so that he is found with the blood of the murder victim and fibres from her dress on his sweat shirt. We see how he has had a series of incidents that has landed him in trouble with the police, and to the detriment of couple of young ladies and shop owners. It's obvious that Elton is not getting the kind of treatment he needs under the 'community care' system, because, as Jim tells us, there is no community and no care.
Jim, Elton's solicitor and the guy who did actually push the hapless Serena over the cliff, also has mental illness problems, however, he gets by - just. A few Basil Brush hallucinations and an alter-ego voice in his head come out to play when he's stressed, but other than that he manages to hold it all together. An interesting point is that Jim actually cares for Elton, a big, bumbling, kind of sweet and strangely innocent person; he figures that if he goes down for Serena's murder, he should end up in a hospital where he'll get the diagnosis and treatment he needs. So, yeah, the inference is that if you've got a mental illness, you need to commit murder to get the treatment you need. There is definitely a point made about the nature of the mental health system.
As for the justice system, we are told that Serena is studying in Britain because it's the 'best justice system in the world' and yet, the very reason Jim is doing what he's doing ie framing Elton, is because, as a solicitor, he knows how the system works, and he knows that he has bucklys chance of having the actual truth accepted as truth, and is pretty sure that the lies will be accepted without question because it's convenient for everyone to do so - everyone except Elton.
The end was as unexpected as it was clever. The events tied up the story beautifully with something you might call a literary smirk, then the author left us with a poignant ending that could be read a couple of different ways. Very clever Mr Cooke.
Truly, this is nothing short of brilliant. I highly recommend it.
I received this book free of charge from the author in return for an honest review.
Cooke’s novel is unique among crime novels. Defending Elton is not about the investigation into who committed a heinous murder. In fact, the answer is known from the start. In an intriguing twist to the traditional whodunit, Cooke’s focus is on who-can-be-framed.
Elton Spears is a man living in community care for psychiatric reasons. It’s never made clear exactly what Elton’s psychiatric condition is, but it is crystal clear that he is unable to live independently. Initially I wanted to know just what Elton was living with and specifically how life was challenging for him. As I read, though, I came to realize that the vagueness of Elton’s condition creates universality. This is not a novel that shows how people with a very specific mental illness or developmental disability can be abused by the system. Rather, it allows the reader to experience how such horrible mistreatment affects all such people.
Defending Elton is a novel that grabbed me and made me want to keep reading. I was a bit surprised at myself for this, but I even found myself attached to the murderer, the man who tries to pin the murder on the vulnerable Elton. Sure, Jim Harwood is a murderer, but he’s one with empathy and remorse. Adding depth to the story, Cooke interweaves the lives of Elton and Jim long before the murder and the blame occur. Of course Jim’s framing Elton is not at all okay, but Jim’s sorrow and regret are so intense that he himself begins to exhibit signs of mental illness.
TJ Cooke’s Defending Elton is a shrewd commentary on human nature cleverly disguised as a crime novel. Crime novel indeed, but the main focus is on justice: for the victim, for the accuser, and especially for the accused. Reading this novel was well worth my time.