A Personal History of Thirst

A Personal History of Thirst

by John Burdett
     
 

From former British barrister John Burdett comes a psychosexual novel in the tradition of Damage and Presumed Innocent. At the heart of A Personal History of Thirst is an ill-fated love triangle where all hunger for something and are willing to risk everything to get it, blurring the boundaries between right and wrong and love and hate to do so. Thirst tells a… See more details below

Overview

From former British barrister John Burdett comes a psychosexual novel in the tradition of Damage and Presumed Innocent. At the heart of A Personal History of Thirst is an ill-fated love triangle where all hunger for something and are willing to risk everything to get it, blurring the boundaries between right and wrong and love and hate to do so. Thirst tells a gripping tale of murder, revenge, infidelity, ambition, and deception that keeps shocking until the stunning courtroom climax. In the end, A Personal History of Thirst answers the question: What happens when genuine love becomes mixed with perverse obsession?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Former lawyer Burdett's first novel cleverly exploits a love triangle to highlight the mordant ironies of the British class system. Couched in terms of psychological intrigue, this three-part thriller uncovers deception involving ambitious James Knight, a defender turned prosecutor; Oliver Thirst, his former client; and Daisy Smith, an Anglomaniac American. In the first part, Daisy is charged with Oliver's murder. The second part is a flashback to the late 1970s, which establishes and develops the dark triangle. James, Oliver and Daisy all seek escape from their respective places in society. James, not being of blue-blood public-school stock, feels an outsider in the legal ranks even as he rises to the verge of receiving silks as a Queen's Counsel. That's when Oliver, trying to polish his native intelligence with schooling in order to escape the streets, reenters his life. Though it's unethical to continue contact with a former client, not to mention socially inadvisable to step down the class ladder for tea, James does so because of a secret in his own past. Meanwhile, Daisy is trying to erase the memory of a brutally abusive father while her British mother moves towards a devastating end. A convoluted strategem fabricated to free Daisy hides several sinister truths as the final battle of wits ensues in Daisy's trial, which consumes much of the third and most compelling-and funny-part of the novel. As legal machinations and revelations of cunning duplicity mount, Burdett drives his sharp-eyed amorality tale to its startling conclusion. (Feb.)
Mary Ellen Quinn
James Knight, successful London barrister, is visited by two policemen investigating the murder of Oliver Thirst, a convicted criminal whom Kinght once defended and later befriended. Daisy, Knight's ex-lover and Thirst's wife, is accused of the crime. What follows is Knight's narration of the connection between these three. Knight first meets Daisy, an American, when both are in school. His working-class origins are one of the things that attract Daisy, but Knight is determined to climb the social ladder and, as he puts it, "amputate his past." As he is starting to establish himself in his career, he is asked to handle an appeal for Thirst, a thief with whom he has a slight acquaintance, so that Thirst can be paroled from prison and make a new start. The theme of starting anew, making oneself over, changing identities, is central to the book. The appeal is successful, and from that point on the lives of Knight, Thirst, and Daisy are fatally intertwined. The characterizations are not quite strong enough to make this first novel a complete success. The reader never quite buys Daisy's alleged charm and Thirst's charisma. Still, the author does a skillful job of managing his theme of shifting identities, all the way to the surprising but inevitable conclusion.
Kirkus Reviews
"You never get free. Never." That's the despairing statement of Oliver Thirst, the career criminal whose murder on a London street sets this ambitious but flawed first novel in motion.

Among the suspects in Thirst's death is James Knight, a barrister so accomplished that he is about to be named a Queen's Counsel. Burdett, who has practiced law in London, renders the details of a trial attorney's life with precision, vigor, and with obvious relish for the peculiar byways of the law. Knight, as a young barrister scrabbling for cases, had managed to save Thirst from a lengthy jail term. Against his better judgment, he is talked into taking a further interest in Thirst, who, having sworn off crime, has enrolled in the university. Both men are cockneys, both are intelligent, both are "straining every nerve to move up a few strata in British society." Knight does rise but Thirst gradually slips from failure to self-pity to a career as a drug dealer catering to the appetites of the trendier echelons of London society. He also manages to seduce Knight's sensual, amoral wife, Daisy, and eventually to marry her. Daisy is arrested for Thirst's murder (he had been an ingeniously abusive husband, and she had been photographed practicing her marksmanship on a shooting range), and Knight comes to her defense. Burdett's trial scenes are terse, often mordantly funny, always convincing. But Thirst never comes to life: He remains more a collection of grievances than a character. And the series of revelations at the climax about Knight's past life and motives seem more baffling than illuminating.

Burdett, in attempting to turn our perceptions of the novel's events inside out, only confuses. Still, his unblinking eye—his characters are sketched in with great shrewdness—and his exact, resonant style make one hope that next time he'll rely less on surprise, more on narrative.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780688143992
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
02/28/1996
Edition description:
1st ed
Pages:
320
Product dimensions:
6.48(w) x 9.61(h) x 1.06(d)

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