Samiksha Bhattacharjee, author of Legal Crime, found me. She asked if I would like to review her recently-released debut novel. It is with great pleasure that I present my review: scroll down past the trailer.
Legal Crime is an impressive debut novel written by “the youngest YA author in the UK”1,as noted in the guest blog on The Book’s the Thing and Lucy Rambles. Its complexity is astounding. The author’s planning board must have been as busy as a crime investigation’s—rather, as a cold case investigation’s, incorporating new-found evidence—for the multi-layered plot interweaving past and present surely required Bhattacharjee to compartmentalise timelines and character relationships with scientific precision. The drip-fed clues through which the audience pieces together relationships between various characters invite speculation, with some big reveals surprising the characters as much as the reader.
The three-layered narration is unusual: the prominent voice is the third person narration of the storyline; the protagonist’s thoughts are in second person; and then there is an overlay of first person commentary, from outside the world of the book. This external narration is intriguing; it leaves the reader wondering how the external narrator is connected to the story. Starting off relatively insignificant, this voice builds as the story progresses—tantalising the reader into guessing, wondering, pondering—until it is particularly dominant in the denoument, when its association to the protagonist is revealed. Such a strategy draws the audience into a quest to discover the truth.
Bhattacharjee clearly had fun with all the characters’ names: the audience is challenged to not only keep up with the multiple characters, but also with their various name-changes. All the main characters have at least one nickname or alternative persona, quintessentially demonstrated in this passage:
‘It doesn’t surprise me. Fiona is capable of many remarkable things, right Isa?’
‘Well… hopefully?’ Anna paused.
Three different people here? You be the judge.
Not only does Samiksha have fun with names, she has great fun with language: the characters write secret messages to each other in code, and use various text types to communicate. Direct speech, letters and text messages are shown in varying fonts. Ceri Evans from Ceri’s Lil Blog remarks that the “use of a diary style … fitted well with the writer’s intentions in terms of plot and theme”2. Refreshingly free from errors in the application of the fonts, these passages are a delight. The author credits “Charlotte Mouncey from Bookstyle [whose] typesetting was flawless”—Mouncey also created the “brilliant and unique cover design”, which is certainly attractive and suits the YA genre.
As Steinbeck effectively blends the dialect speech of his characters with the formal constructs of narration, Bhattacharjee balances her narration with the colloquial text- and spoken language of her adolescent characters and that of her adult characters (who Bhattacharjee pens with skill and compassion, especially for someone of her youth): as with Steinbeck’s internationally-recognised skill, this authenticity increases the appeal of Legal Crime. Kate from If these books could talk concurs, stating that “[Bhattarcharjee] has managed to encapsulate the teen pysche without it veering towards the stereotypical tropes that many adult writers rely upon”3. Hear, hear!
The grammar of this book is not perfect. In fact, a solid edit would improve the product immensely. The phrasing is sometimes clunky. (For example, “Blasted hepatocellular carcinoma. Liver cancer.” would flow better through a statement, “Blasted hepatocellular carcinoma.” and reply, “It’s not fair you’ve got liver cancer.”) However, the grammatical errors and somewhat flawed expression are also indicative of the writing ability of a thirteen-year-old, who “really hope[s] that this skill progresses as [she] get[s] older”4.
The author has certainly paid attention in her English classes and is widely read. She employs recognised literary techniques well, such as a motif of the snake in the protagonist’s tattoo (featured on the cover). The snake haunts Fiona with its head pointing upwards, threatening to bite her with her past bad decisions… The figurative language is engaging: one character lives in “a block of flats [which] stared at her with googly eyes” and another wears “a smile so bright; it could make the sun cower in fear”. Mai from Mai’s Musings agrees when she states that the book “has moments of beautiful writing that hint at the talent this young author has”5.
The novel follows a standard narrative “story mountain”, the exposition setting the scene with care. It quickly gathers pace until it is rollicking in action and sheer fun, taunting the reader to second-guess the plot before it is exposed. Noteworthy for an author her age, Samiksha regularly brings in details of diverse subject matters (for example, scientific processes and ancient gods) which not only demonstrates her own vast knowledge, it also gives her characters individual voices.
As characters in commendable novels do, Samiksha’s characters grow with their experiences. Assessing their past actions, they ultimately realise that “yesterday was history, tomorrow’s a mystery. Today’s a gift, that’s why it’s called the present”, learning that “life is such a precious and special thing, and we should all appreciate it”. The albeit fairly cheesy characters’ realisation demonstrates the culmination of the author’s desire to “write a story about a runaway, who, through her experiences, comes to appreciate her family”6.
A main aim of this talented debut author is to inspire other young writers. She enthuses, “remember, age is just a number attached to you. You can write an amazing book that might be even better than you … expect!” This novel is a praiseworthy example of what other aspirant young authors can achieve.
With Legal Crime Samiksha Bhattacharjee has invigorated one of the most important things about reading: pleasure. She “shows a lot of promise … if her first book is like this then she will definitely be an author to look out for”7, Hannah from Hannah’s Book Club writes. “Currently writing a YA dystopian fantasy”8, Samiksha Bhattacharjee is certainly an author to watch.
— Annabel Harz
1, 4, 6, 8. https://booksthething.com/2021/05/25/guest-post-from-samiksha-bhattacharjee-author-of-legal-crime/ and https://lucyrambles.com/2021/05/22/book-blog-tour-legal-crime-by-samiksha-bhattacharjee-author-guest-blog/