Book Review: Death by Dangerous by Olly Jarvis

Title: Death by Dangerous
Author: Olly Jarvis
Publication Date: 8 June 2015
Publisher: Matador

Twitter: @ollyjarviso


Death by Dangerous is a compelling legal thriller set in Manchester and Bradford.

John Anderson is one of the North West’s most dedicated and successful prosecution barristers. His career is going from strength to strength and he is on the verge of becoming Queen’s Counsel. But the life he once knew suddenly comes crashing down following a fatal road traffic accident…

“They’re saying it was your fault. Someone died.”

Recovering from his injuries, he has no memory of the collision. Was he responsible for the death of a child? Who was his female passenger? Facing charges of causing death by dangerous driving, the professional and personal life he once knew now lies in tatters. Depressed and taking refuge in alcohol, Anderson refuses, in the face of so many unanswered questions, to accept his guilt. He becomes convinced that the gangster he was prosecuting at the time of the crash is in some way involved.

The mystery deepens as his search for the truth draws him into Manchester’s sordid criminal underworld. Shunned by his former colleagues, Anderson finds help from an unlikely source, enabling him to confront his prejudices and re-evaluate his past life. He embarks on a journey of self-discovery and, ultimately, the path for his own redemption.

Anderson knows that defeat means deliverance to a prison full of violent criminals he has prosecuted over the years. He now has to find the strength to fight the most important trial of his life.


Death by Dangerous is the debut novel of barrister, Olly Jarvis. Specialising in defending people on trial for road traffic accidents which have resulted in someone’s death (i.e. death by dangerous driving), Jarvis has stuck with what he knows for his first book. Being a lawyer myself, I found the premise of the story very interesting as I have had prior experience of this area, albeit from a civil rather than criminal perspective. In my early days as a paralegal, I would frequently be sent to the magistrates’ courts to take notes on criminal proceedings involving driving charges. As such, when I was approached to review this book, I jumped at the chance.

Death by Dangerous is a legal thriller following one of the North West’s leading prosecution barristers, John Anderson. His career is on a high and it is predicted that he will soon join the hallowed ranks of the Queen’s Counsel (QC). His world suddenly comes crashing down when he apparently falls asleep at the wheel and is held responsible for the death of two people. John has no memory of the accident and finds it difficult to understand the chain of events leading up to the accident. Who was the female passenger in his car? Why was she there at all? Why can’t he remember her? Why can he not remember the lead up to the accident? Who can he really trust? So starts John’s struggle to prove his innocence and discover what really occurred on that fateful night.

The plot is absolutely gripping from the very first chapter, it is chock-full of twists and turns and does not let up until the last page. It is a perfect mix of courtroom drama and a fast-paced thriller. I found myself on the edge of my seat, waiting for justice to be done.

The characterisation is interesting. The central protagonist, John Anderson, is from an illustrious family – son of a high court judge and brother of a politician. He has a strong belief in his own innocence. Is this belief justified or is he merely struggling to come to terms with what he may have done? Never mind the prospect of losing his career and being imprisoned, he needs to prove his innocence for his own peace of mind. John is initially quite an unlikable character, frequently sacrificing his family life for the sake of his own ambition. However, as the story progressed, I found that I slowly warmed to him. He starts to realise how false and fragile his previous life had been. In addition, I thought the characterisation of the supporting characters was very well done, these included a pompous senior counsel, competitive junior counsel, a dodgy local solicitor, an ambitious pupil, a disapproving father and a grumpy judge. Jarvis has created a great cast of interesting and thoroughly believable characters.

John sees another side to himself as he faces his contemporaries after the event. He realises that some of them are not upset to see him on the other side of the law! His colleagues and so-called friends have already decided upon his guilt and urge him to plead guilty in order to get a reduced sentence. His only help comes from a very unlikely source.

I found the court scenes and the internal politics between the different members of John’s chambers particularly interesting. I think this is where Jarvis’ experience shows through in capturing the essence of the court room and the underlying competitiveness between the barristers. He has written about what he knows and this gives a great perspective and a real feeling of authenticity to the story. Jarvis has cleverly avoided the pitfall of overloading the reader with too much dry jargon/legalese, striking just the right balance between providing sufficient technical information whilst allowing the story to remain fast-paced, exciting and accessible to all readers, not just those with a legal background.

The story is set in two main locations, the first being around Manchester and focuses on the racial tensions and sordid criminal underworld in the Manchester area. This provides a dark and gritty background to the story. The other location is at Bradford Crown Court where John’s trial plays out. There seem to be very few courtroom dramas set in the UK, at least as far as I have found, and this was a significant part of its appeal for me.

Death by Dangerous is not merely a legal thriller, it goes further in exploring John’s relationships with his family and friends. He has been working hard to fulfil his ambitions and make his family proud and yet, by choosing to focus on his career rather than on his relationship with his wife and children, he has actually alienated himself from his family in the process. The story also focuses on John’s working relationships that and his changing attitude towards those people. I particularly liked the see-saw relationship between John and Hussain. The book explores the important of realising what really matters to you before it is too late.

Death by Dangerous is a clever, fast-paced and gripping crime thriller, with a strong underlying theme of honesty, integrity and justice. It will take the reader on a rollercoaster ride, twisting and turning until it reaches the climatic ending! A truly enthralling read.

I understand that there is another novel on its way to us shortly and I cannot wait to get my hands on it. With Olly Jarvis’s debut novel, we may well have finally found the UK’s answer to John Grisham (one of my all-time favourite authors)!

About the Author
Olly Jarvis is a writer and criminal defence barrister, originally from London but now working in Manchester. Drawing on his experiences, he writes both fiction and non-fiction with a particular understanding of the pressures and excitement of life in the courtroom. He wrote highly acclaimed Radio 4 drama Judgement, exploring a barrister’s thought processes whilst cross-examining a rape victim. Using his knowledge of the Indonesian language, he travelled to Sumatra where he wrote and presented a BBC documentary entitled Mum Knows Best. Son of actor/director Martin Jarvis OBE, Olly has two children and lives in Cheshire.

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