Full Disclosure by Beverley McLachlin
Full Disclosure is a legal thriller written by Beverley McLachlin, the former Chief Justice of Canada. Set in Vancouver, Canada, it is about the murder of Laura St. John Trussardi. A forty year old woman of privilege, her husband, Vincent Trussardi is the primary suspect. Fifteen years Laura’s senior, he refers to his wife as a “do-gooder” because of her charitable work. Laura is found dead in the marital bed; killed by a bullet from Vincent’s gun. Police are unable to locate the weapon. Vincent contacts Jilly Truitt, a thirty-four year old defense attorney and asks her to take his case. The prosecutor is Cy Kenge, Jilly’s former mentor. Vincent attests sailing at the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club during the time Laura killed. The alibi is weak, however, and the lawyers wage a courtroom battle to prove whether him innocent or guilty.
The book has fifty-nineshort chapters and is divided into three acts. Act One and Act Two introduce us to the cast of characters, detail background information and clarify conflict. Act Three centers on the trial, verdict and aftermath. The writing is measured; dialogue, crisp; and description, spare yet essential to profile character, convey mood and establish place. The relevance of the title is made clear. Throughout the novel, McLachlin explains the criminal investigation process: role of the defence attorney and crown prosecutor, jury selection, evidence collection and admission, cross-examination techniques, tunnel vision, reasonable doubt, compartmentalizing as the key to a lawyer’s sanity, etc. This adds gravitas to the story.
The author merits credit in the creation of an authentic Jilly Truitt. A person who manifests strengths and flaws, she was an orphan who endured a cycle of dark foster homes. She descended into self-harming behaviour but eventually received “parental” love and evolved into an accomplished lawyer. Nevertheless, Jilly continues to struggle with demons. Her relationships are complicated especially that with Michael St. John and, as such, the reader develops empathy for and emotional closeness with Jilly. At the end of Full Disclosure, we are concerned as to what will happen to Jilly because of the startling truths revealed.
With regards who murdered Laura, McLachlin challenges the reader to weigh possible perpetrators. Was it Trevor Shore, the house architect and ex-lover who vanishes after Laura’s death? Or the troubled youth, Damon Cheskey whom Jilly successfully defends of a drug-related murder charge? She befriends him and we learn he had a questionable relationship with Laura. Or perhaps it was Vincent’s older sister, Raquella. Confined to a wheelchair after a horrific sports-accident, she has affection for Laura and animosity for her brother. Raquella declares to Jilly she believes him the villain but what if this an intended lie or simply an innocent falsehood? Then again, based on Cy Kenge’s compelling prosecution, how can it be anyone other than Vincent Trussardi? The ending is a twist; plausible, shocking and tragic on many levels.
Beverley McLachlin weaves references to Canadian Inuit and Indigenous art and the country’s history throughout the book. The insights provide valuable context and enhance the readers’ understanding of people and place. For example, Jilly’s associate, Alice Leung has Chinese ancestry and Vince Trussardi’s parents emigrated from Italy. She also highlights Vancouver’s diversity by weaving the plot through different sections of the city: Gastown, Hastings, Downtown Eastside, Stanley Park, etc.
Beverley McLachlin excels at penning passages prompting reader contemplation about the justice system. The following excerpts serve as examples.
This is an exchange between Jilly Truitt and Vincent Trussardi from Chapter Five:
“I expect you want to know if I killed my wife.”
“Not unless you want to tell us,” I say. Why do they always think it’s about the truth? “Our job is not to decide whether you’re innocent or guilty-it’s to give you the best defense we can.”
This is an excerpt from Chapter Forty-Seven when Jilly Truitt outlines the theory of the defense to the jury:
“The Crown’s case,” I go on, “rests entirely on what the law calls circumstantial evidence. Great caution is required before convicting on circumstantial evidence, which has been the source of countless wrongful convictions. For this reason, the law places a special obligation on the prosecution in such cases. The prosecution must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that there is no reasonable explanation except that Mr. Trussardi committed this crime. There is no onus on Mr. Trussardi to show that he didn’t commit the crime, nor that someone else committed it. It is for the prosecution to eliminate all other reasonable possibilities….”
Finally, Full Disclosure concludes powerfully and poignantly with Jilly’s comment to Damon in Chapter Fifty-Nine:
“Sometimes, Damon, the law doesn’t matter a damn.”
Congratulations Beverley McLachlin on an excellent first novel.
For further information:
The following reference texts are from the non-fiction section of The Sault Ste. Marie Ontario, Canada Public Library. www.ssmpl.ca