When I first saw You Don’t Know Me on Netgalley, I was instantly intrigued. The premise reminded me a little of the film Twelve Angry Men, and I just had to request it.
In You Don’t Know Me, the reader is presented with an unnamed protagonist who is being tried for murder. In the final days of the trial, when the prosecution and defence give their closing speeches, our protagonist, the defendant, gives the speech himself, following a difference of opinion between him and his defence council.
You Don’t Know Me is a transcript of that final speech, delivered over the course of 10 days. During this time, he reviews all of evidence that has been presented, calling into question whether it’s as valid and damning as the prosecution would have the jury believe, whilst at the same time giving his backstory, and the events that led up to his arrest and the trial.
You Don’t Know Me is a slightly strange novel, in that it contains only the defendant’s final speech. The reader – and in my mind, I was essentially the jury in this case – doesn’t see the whole court case, we don’t see the evidence as it’s presented, nor do we hear the prosecution’s arguments as to his guilt or the cross-examinations that take place during the trial. It is simply his closing speech as he reviews the evidence, one piece at a time, to explain how it came about, and why it’s not as damning as it seems. No one interrupts or interjects – although he does occasionally make a reference to the Judge who disapproves of some of his language, but it’s just him.
His speech is colloquial in nature, and there are lots of uses of “innit” and “ain’t it” and the like throughout the text. But for the character that we’re presented with – a young man from London who has managed to avoid falling into one of the gangs in the area by luck as much as anything else – his speech comes across as being authentic. I’m not normally a fan of colloquial speech and dialect, but it worked here to bring the character to life.
And his tale is an intriguing one. There are eight pieces of evidence that have been presented against him, much of it damning. But as he progresses with his story, the reader begins to see his side of the events, and how it’s maybe not quite so clear cut as we’ve been led to believe. As I mentioned, the absence of anyone else in the novel (you do hear from the prosecution briefly at 96% (according to my Kindle at least) through the book) made me feel as though I was the jury, and was being left to form my own conclusion as to his guilt.
This is a gripping novel that presents the reader with a unique protagonist, and it’s the kind of novel that once I started, I didn’t want to put down. Did he commit the murder that he’s accused of? Or is he telling the truth through this closing speech? You’ll have to read it and decide for yourself.
You Don’t Know Me will be published on 4 May by Michael Joseph – many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the review copy.