Excerpt from A Certain Justice by P.D. James, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Certain Justice

by P.D. James

A Certain Justice
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  • First Published:
    Dec 1997, 364 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 1998, 431 pages

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She had a respect, but no liking, for Rufus Matthews, who was prosecuting. The days of flamboyant eloquence in court were over and had in any case never been appropriate to the prosecution, but Rufus liked to win. He would make her fight for every point gained. Opening the prosecution case, he had recounted the facts with a brevity and an unemphatic clarity which left the impression that no eloquence was necessary to support a case so self-evidently true.

Garry Ashe had lived with his maternal aunt, Mrs. Rita O'Keefe, at 397 Westway for a year and eight months before her death. His childhood had been spent in care, during which he had been placed with eight foster parents between periods in children's homes. He had lived in two London squats and had worked for a time in a bar in Ibiza before moving in with his aunt. The relationship between aunt and nephew could hardly be called normal. Mrs. O'Keefe was in the habit of entertaining a variety of men friends, and Garry was either compelled, or consented, to photograph his aunt and these various men engaged in the sexual act. Photographs which the accused had admitted taking would be shown in evidence.

On the night of the murder, Friday, 12 January, Mrs. O'Keefe and Garry were seen together from six o'clock to nine in the Duke of Clarence public house in Cosgrove Gardens, about one and a half miles from Westway. There was a quarrel and Garry left shortly after nine, saying that he was going home. His aunt, who was drinking heavily, stayed on. At about ten-thirty the licensee refused to serve her any more and she was helped into a taxi by two of her friends. At that time she was drunk but by no means incapable. Her friends judged that she was able to get home on her own. The cab-driver deposited her at Number 397 and watched her enter through the side gate at about ten-forty-five.

At ten minutes past midnight a call was made to the police by Garry Ashe from his aunt's house to say that he had returned from a walk to discover her body. When the police arrived at twelve-twenty they found Mrs. O'Keefe lying on a single divan in the front sitting-room, practically naked. Her throat had been cut and she had been slashed with a knife after death, a total of nine wounds. It was the opinion of the forensic pathologist who saw the body at twelve-forty that Mrs. O'Keefe had died very shortly after her return home. There was no evidence of a break-in, and nothing to suggest that she had been entertaining or expecting a visitor that night.

A smear of blood, later identified as Mrs. O'Keefe's, had been found on the headpiece of the shower above the bath in the bathroom, and two spots of her blood on the stair carpet. A large kitchen knife had been discovered under the privet hedge of a front garden less than a hundred yards from 397 Westway. The knife, which had a distinctive triangular chip in the handle, had been identified both by the accused and by the cleaning woman as having come from the drawer in Mrs. O'Keefe's kitchen. It had been cleaned of all fingerprints.

The defendant had told the police that he had not gone straight home from the public house, but had walked the streets behind Westway and down as far as Shepherd's Bush before returning after midnight to discover his aunt's body. The court would, however, hear evidence from the neighbour living next door that she had seen Garry Ashe leaving 397 Westway at eleven-fifteen on the night of the murder. It was the case for the Crown that Garry Ashe had, in fact, gone straight home from the Duke of Clarence public house, that he had waited for his aunt to return and that he had killed her with the kitchen knife, probably himself in a state of nakedness. He had then taken a shower, dressed and left the house at eleven-fifteen to walk the streets in an attempt to establish an alibi.

Rufus Matthews's final words were almost perfunctory. If the jury were satisfied on the evidence put before them that Garry Ashe had murdered his aunt, it would be their duty to return a verdict of guilty. If, however, at the end of the case they were left with a reasonable doubt of his guilt, then the accused was entitled to be acquitted of the murder of Mrs. Rita O'Keefe.

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Use of this excerpt from A Certain Justice by P. D. James may be made only for purposes of promoting the book, with no changes, editing, or additions whatsoever, and must be accompanied by the following copyright notice: Copyright© 1997 by P.D. James. All rights reserved.

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