The Rapunzel Act is the fourth book in Leeds-born author Abi Silver’s Burton and Lamb series, and this installment is as poignant as ever. Protagonists Judith Burton and Constance Lamb set out to help Debbie Mallard, a trans woman, and retired football star. Debbie’s private life is abruptly seated firmly in the public view as she is accused of murdering her ex-spouse, Breakfast TV host Rosie Harper. Things are further complicated when the government decides to live-stream the trial for the entire public to view.
With a story based in modern-day London Abi felt that it was “right and appropriate” to have a diverse cast of characters in her novel. “You do have to be sensitive to people’s feelings,” said Abi, when asked about portraying this. “Always have respect for all your characters.”
Abi was born in Leeds and went to Roundhay School before studying Law at Girton College, Cambridge. As a practicing lawyer writing legal dramas was a natural progression, and when Abi got back into her childhood passion of writing, that’s exactly what she did. “I’ve always written. And as a little girl, I was always writing stories.” In 2016, living overseas in Israel and on maternity leave, Abi began to write The Pinocchio Brief — the first book in the Burton & Lamb series. “It was quite therapeutic for me.”
“The idea for the story really came from an article from The Times when barrister Lord Pannick (who is a very eminent lawyer) had advocated filming all criminal trials. And I was quite shocked by that as a prospect… I think very much his view was that the courts are open to the public. You can walk in as a member of the public and you can watch the case. But it’s not really open to the public because if you can’t get to the courtroom, you can’t see it. He very much said that if we want public justice and if we want people to trust the system then we should make it available to everyone… You can probably hear from my tone that I think it’s a really terrible idea.”
In June 2020 legislation was passed which now allows a judge’s sentencing remarks to be filmed and broadcast to the public. The Rapunzel Act is a timely exploration of the implications of the increasing movement towards broadcasting trials and sentencing. Abi aims to challenge readers to think about the issue and come up with their own conclusion: “The strapline for the book is: can you find justice when the world is watching? You have to get to the end of the book and decide as a reader whether the answer is yes or no. I try in all of my stories to be quite balanced, to show some of the positives as well as the negatives and keep people guessing right ‘til the end.”
The Rapunzel Act is published by Lightning Books and is released in paperback from 15th April and is currently available digitally