Title: At the Dark Hour
Author: John Wilson
Release Date: 19th July 2018
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Clink Street Publishing
A moving story about the nature of love and redemption set amidst the worst of the London Blitz and the destruction of London’s hallowed seat of law, the Temple
Adam Falling is a failing, sick barrister married to Catherine but conducting an affair with the glamorous Julia, who happens to be the wife of his Head of Chambers, Jeremy Pemberton.
Julia, fearful of losing her children, suddenly ends the affair. But it is too late. Pemberton discovers it and Adam is kicked out of his home and his chambers. Unable to work without a chambers and facing ruin, salvation comes in the unlikely form of the brilliant barrister, Roland (“Roly”) Blytheway. Blythway, held back in his career because of his sexuality, befriends him and invites him to join his chambers at Lamb Building.
It is there he finds himself defending a Czech refugee, Tomas Novak, who has been accused of treason and who is facing the gallows and becomes mired in another contested divorce case for one Arnold Bateman, where he, on the recommendation of Pemberton, represents the co-respondent whilst Pemberton represents the petitioner – a piece of cruel psychological torture on the part of Pemberton.
Whilst the Blitz rages on around, can Adam save Novak from the gallows? Can he get Bateman off? Will he ever discover why Julia suddenly broke off their affair? Can he succeed in resisting Jeremy’s claims against him personally? He has been told that only one man can possibly save him and that man is Roland Blytheway.
At the Dark Hour is the story of ordinary people caught in the horror of war whilst the city is destroyed around them. It features many of the most notable real life events of the Blitz such as the bombing of the Café de Paris.
About the Author
Originally from Wigan, John Wilson is a QC at 1, Hare Court, London who was called to the Bar in 1981. He has written or contributed to a number of academic text books, written very many articles and is a published poet.
Wilson drew on his many years of experience of family law (and in the early days criminal law) and upon the misogyny and homophobia which were characteristic of the law at the time the novel is set.
When not working in London, Wilson spends as much of his time as possible in the South of France, where the novel was written, and travels extensively.
Falling’s room was narrow and cold. The windows were heavily curtained but a warm light emanated from his desk. He looked like a barrister, though not a very well one, thought Bateman. He was about five eleven and a little older than Bateman himself. Certainly not forty. He wore a black jacket and white shirt. His black hair, which was slightly too long, flopped down over his forehead. He slipped a piece of notepaper under a small crystal paperweight, then steepled his long thin pianist’s fingers in front of him. Bateman noticed that his right cuff was fraying white. On the shelf behind Falling, Bateman saw a row of books – mostly Penguin paperbacks.
- Good day at the Tribunal, Mr Falling?
Jones asked, a little too cheerily and with no interest in the answer. Falling’s voice in reply was mellifluous but slightly breathless and broken:
- The usual business. Very good to meet you at last, Mr Jones. Good evening, Mr Bateman. – Hello.
There was a pause whilst everyone considered whether any further pleasantries were required. Then:
- Well, Mr Bateman. I have read the instructions that Mr Jones has so carefully prepared on your behalf and it looks as though you may be in a spot of bother.
- I was fine until I received those papers. Or as fine as you can be these days.
- You were served two days ago as I understand it?
- In the office, would you believe?
Does your wife know about these allegations?
- She’s dead.
- I’m sorry.
- Died three months ago. Run over by a car during the blackout. Found out she died when I got back from work.
- Yes, I’m sorry. I should have mentioned that in my instructions. Mr Bateman is a widower.
It was a common story at the time. Strict imposition of the blackout and the prohibition on torches, streetlamps and headlights had meant that by December 1940 about forty people were being run down and killed every night on the streets of London.
- Anyway – said Bateman, forgetting that perhaps he should look more grieving – it’s bad enough as it is. I still have my reputation. And Jones here says it could be all over the papers.
- I’m afraid so. If this goes to Court I will have to wear my wig and gown – he motioned to a blue bag with his initials on it hanging in the corner – and the press likes a … a bit of fun (I’m afraid) at times like this.
- I’m sorry. But that is how it will be seen. With bombs landing all around us and people dying all over the world it’s rather comforting to discover that men and women are still having sex with people they shouldn’t be having sex with. Gives things an air of normality.
- But I wasn’t, you know … having sex with Mrs McKechnie.
- Mr Jones has told me what you say. But why would Mr McKechnie make these accusations against you?
There was a long pause. Adam had time to study his client. A small red faced man in a loud pinstripe with wide lapels, fidgeting in his chair. He knew the type.
- You understand, Mr Bateman, that anything said in this room is privileged and need be known to no one else. But if you tell me one thing is true and expect me to proceed on the basis that the truth lies elsewhere I will be obliged to withdraw from your case?
Jones had warned Bateman about this question.
- I know. There’s nothing in it. I don’t know why he’s done it. But I knew it was coming. Did Jones tell you how he set about me in the office about three weeks ago, in front of everyone, accusing me of screwing Victoria?
Adam knew about this. It was in his instructions in lurid detail. Graham McKechnie was Bateman’s immediate superior in an insurance office in the City. Without warning in early November he had approached Bateman loudly during the morning tea break and accused him of carrying on with his wife. He was waving her diary around and pointing to various entries, shouting “ABC.”? Don’t you think I know what that means?
- Tell me about the diary?
- Nothing to tell. Nothing I know at any rate. The four of us were friends and lived local to one another round Ilford. Victoria keeps a diary – I knew that much – and apparently she’d been putting these “mysterious” references to ABC in it. Well, I’m Arnold Bateman. Don’t know what the “C” could stand for. Could be the pictures or the teashop for all I know. Well, Graham thinks she’s acting oddly, looks at her diary and comes up with the answer that it’s something to do with me.
- Is there anything else?
Again, a long pause.
- Not that I can think of.
- What does Victoria look like?
- What’s that got do with anything?
- It’s helpful to have a mental picture.
- I suppose she’s rather beautiful really. About five foot six with blonde hair in a curly frizz round her head. Slim … she’s got blue eyes … is that enough?
Have you been sleeping with Victoria?
- No! I’ve told you that and I’ve told Jones that. Why would I be here if I had?
Adam could think of a number of reasons. He was overcome by a coughing fit before he could reply and it was over a minute before the conference continued. Wiping his mouth with a large white handkerchief, he said:
- Money, Mr Bateman.
- I thought we’d get onto that subject sooner or later.
- If Mr McKechnie is telling the truth and you’ve been sleeping with Victoria, he’ll sue you for substantial damages and he’ll get his costs. It could be hundreds or thousands of pounds.
Bateman blanched, then went red. Adam waited for him to say something but he remained sitting in stunned silence.
- You’ve come to me for advice about your legal position. You have been cited as the Co-Respondent in divorce proceedings. The allegation is that you have committed adultery with Victoria McKechnie. Mr McKechnie is the Petitioner. If he succeeds in proving that then he will be entitled to recover money from you for breaking up his marriage. The proceedings will be contested in open court and the press will be there. It will be embarrassing for everyone. And not a little distasteful, I’m afraid. I will be representing you in Court if it comes to that. I am bound by the facts. If you say you did not do it then we will proceed on that basis. If you said you did do it we will have to adopt another tack. Perhaps that Victoria was an awful wife and he really has lost nothing by being relieved of such a dreadful person. That will cut the – – How dare you!
- I’m sorry, Mr Bateman?
- Carry on.
- If we can satisfy the Court that in any event Mrs McKechnie is no loss to her husband, that will certainly cut down on the amount of damages you will have to pay, but you will still have to pay his costs. If you have been sleeping with … Victoria … then we better try and cut your losses now. Have you been sleeping with her or having sex with her? I’m sorry to be technical but “sex” in this context means “actual penetration of her vagina by your penis”. – This is disgusting!
Adam wanted him off balance.
- Have you been sleeping with her or have you had sex with her?
- Do you know what she says to these allegations?
- Yes … I mean no. Of course I don’t know. But I know that she will deny them.
- How do you know?
- Well … because we haven’t.
- Have you discussed the petition with her?
- Anyway, why would she deny it if she had been?
- She may not want to be divorced and left to fend for herself.
How would she support herself if he divorced her?
- I hadn’t thought about that.
- I see she has children. Ernest and Susan?
- But they’ve been evacuated. They may never hear about it anyway.
- But she loves them, doesn’t she?
- Yes, and they love her, and always will, I’m sure. What’s that got to do with it?
- Well, she wouldn’t want to lose custody of them, would she?
- Why should she lose custody of them?
- If it is proven that she has been having adultery with someone then her husband will be entitled to their custody. She will probably still be able to see them from time to time.
- This is bloody madness. They’ve always been with her, ever since we met them. Why should he have them? He’s never there.
- That’s the law, Mr Bateman. So you see, this could be extremely serious. If she is a good woman – and you aren’t giving me much encouragement that she is not – and you have been committing adultery it could cost you an awful lot of money and possibly bankrupt you. I wouldn’t think he’s doing it for the money. He probably knows you can’t afford it. He just wants to humiliate you … and humiliate his wife.
Jones coughed before interrupting.
- Actually, Mr Bateman probably can afford it.
Adam raised an eyebrow and took another look at Bateman.
- You work in an office in the City?
- Mr Jones is talking about my compensation.
- For what?
- For Marjorie’s death. She was insured. I got £10,000. I think that McKechnie wishes it was his wife that died. So that’s why he’s coming against me, I reckon.
- And according to the petition, he is saying that you’ve been having an affair since January of this year, at least, on the basis of the diary?
- So he’s alleging that you were unfaithful to your own wife before she died?
- That’s about the sum of it I suppose.