14 NOVEMBER 1958, Page 27

Best Way To Do It

The Rest We Can Do: An Account of the Trial of John Bodkin Adams, By Sybille Bedford. (Collins, I5s.)

ART and Law have not usually been on good terms. with one another for all their common

concern with human behaviour. Dickens and

Daumier found judges repulsive; judges found Wilde and. Whistler incomprehensible. When.

however, the two meet in sympathy, as even out- side, the Garrick Club they occasionally do, the result is likely to be of greater interest than the mutual caricatures which are the usual product of their collisions. Sybille Bedford is an artist all right; and she has a power of expression both vivid and precise. She is also, it seems, deeply impressed by the spirit and machinery of English criminal justice. With this equipment she attended and has now written an account of last year's cairse celebre, the trial of Dr. Adams, in which the tension be- tween the light and the facts, and•thc effect of that tension upon the participants, was more than usually revealing. An English criminal trial is not, of course, primarily an inquiry into the truth, but often the truth squeezes its way out with devastat- ing results. (Had • the nurses' notebooks been known to both sides before the trial—as they would have • been in a civil • contest—what

would the prosecution evidence have been like?)

Miss Bedford's writing is spare; there is no `background': a brief introduction as Mr. Justice -Devlin takes his seat (an 'ermined puppet'—how's that for contempt of court), and then, besides judicious editing, she practically limits her part to a series of stage- or musical-directions, under which the continuous dialogue of the court jumps into life.

Detective-Superintendent [still casually, cheer- fully] 'I met him at 9 p.m. and left him at 9.45.'

Counsel [raised eyebrow] 'In October--in the dark?'

[Singing tone] 'Yes—in the dark.'

[Leon)] 'Do I understand it was what yor call an unplanned meeting?'

[Smile beneath the skin] 'Oh, yes.' . . .

The danger about this kind of thing is that, a murder trial being intensely dramatic anyhow, there can easily be too much whipping-up of the drama; but Miss :Bedford avoids the danger, possibly because the undramatic decision not to put the doctor in the witness-box gives her more scope. • She sees that an ignoble curiosity may receive this decision as something of a let-down.

• . The machinery of law, such as we have evolved it, is perhaps a • tribute to civilised restraint and melancholy realism; it is not always wholly to the taste of our instincts.

Miss Bedford's justified admiration for the judge. and the defence are patent :. they even lead her to describe Mr. Lawrence; QC, as a youngish man with a fine profile, (And 'the Attorney- General does not, boom; though admittedly he looks as though he would.) But these are engaging trifles in a skilful book. There is no moral, other than that conveyed by the title : the best we can do it o.This is also, On the whole, the best way to do