Welcome to our weekly Books Digest where we round up the new books you should and shouldn’t, be reading. This week features Unlawful Killings: Life, Love and Murder: Trials at the Old Bailey by Her Honour Wendy Joseph QC, Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley and The Bargain: Why the UK works so well for Scotland by Tom Miers

For more books, take a look through our Books Digest Archive.

Unlawful Killings: Life, Love and Murder: Trials at the Old Bailey by Her Honour Wendy Joseph QC (Transworld Publishers, £13.69)

John Miers

There is a problem with our society. Or, as Her Honour Wendy Joseph would have it, several. These are explored through several episode-like court cases to do with unlawful killings, as seen through the fresh perspective of a judge.  The victims and perpetrators vary across all ages and backgrounds. Still, all are equally fascinating because of their key shared factor – death, taking full advantage of the morbid fascination within us all. They are almost like episodes of “Columbo”, with the crime being told from the third person at the beginning of each chapter before the resulting court case in the first person. Even though the crimes are fictional, they are realistic enough never to seem fantastical and retain their edge.

There is a jokey and occasionally light-hearted tone that sometimes appears that does not always mix well with the all too serious points Joseph tries to get across, but the rough patches are brief and made up for by the fascinating detail of what happens in such trials.

As each case progresses, we get to know the lawyers, jurors, defendants, and witnesses, getting the reader invested in them and the main recurring character of Joseph herself. It is written like non-fiction, but with enough fiction to keep it entertaining. If you like seeing justice get served, are a fan of Suits, or simply have an interest in how our society functions, I recommend this book. 

Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley (Bloomsbury Publishing, £12.69)

Alice Crossley

Seven years ago, Leila Mottley’s local community in California, was shaken by a shocking exposé of the Police Department’s involvement in the sexual exploitation of young women and their attempts to cover up the story. The scandal stayed with the Oakland Youth Poet Laureate and became the basis for her first work of fiction. 

Nightcrawling tells the story of Kiara Johnson, a seventeen-year-old living in Oakland, whose childhood was cut short by the unravelling of her family. Before long, it is just Kiara and her brother Marcus. Unable to get a job herself — or convince her brother to step up and provide for their family — the teenager is forced to take to the streets, offering her body as the only capital she has left to offer. One day she is picked up by a group of malicious police officers and finds herself trafficked into unthinkable circumstances and at the centre of a local scandal.

Nightcrawling is a difficult read for its brutal exploration of sex work and how easy it is for those in power to pick on the desperate and vulnerable. In writing the book, Mottley provides a much-needed voice to the exploited women who are so often muted by power dynamics. Despite this, her debut is a slow burner and, at times, a boring read. Many of the protagonist’s flashbacks feel like tangents whilst major plot points are dropped into the text with little fanfare. Nightcrawling is an impressive debut for a writer still in her teens, but won’t be remembered as a standout book from 2022.

The Bargain: Why the UK works so well for Scotland by Tom Miers (Birlinn General, £7.45)

Bill Bowkett

If ever there was a book to turn the most fervent Scottish nationalist into a raging unionist, The Bargain: Why the UK Works So Well for Scotland is it. Written by Tom Miers, a Conservative councillor for the Borders, The Bargain explains why the Act of Union – “unpopular at the time it was struck” – has shaped the country as we know it and given it “greater heft in international affairs”.

The book is split into three sections, one for each of the pillars from the “bargain” of 1707: economics, political and cultural. Leaving would pose greater damage than anti-Brexiteers could ever have imagined. IndyRef2 would likely be fought on “pounds and pence”, public spending and the “social union”, unlike issues of sovereignty and identity, which played a pivotal role during the 2016 Brexit referendum.

After all, Miers says that Scotland “owes its character and experience to the Union” more than the days of William Wallace and Robert The Bruce, which the Scottish National Party have weaponised with a “sinister edge” by turning its back on the country’s “Enlightenment heritage”.

Independence would be “reminiscent of the darker sides of the country’s history… akin to a painful divorce”. He, therefore, calls for a “renewed sense of purpose” following Britain’s departure from the European Union and says that staying together is crucial if all four nations are to “strengthen its geopolitical position”.

A second independence vote is unlikely to happen anytime soon, to the annoyance of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Regardless, The Bargain offers a convincing case against “national oblivion”, if ever there was a way of putting it.