Review: Rebel without a pause
Graham Ogilvy reviews the autobiography of James McIntyre, the Scottish criminal defence lawyer who got too close to his clients and ended up on the wrong side of the law.
Firstly, a declaration of interest. I knew and liked James McIntyre at university where he was popular, cheerful, charismatic and an incorrigible rebel who enjoyed his endless clashes with authority. It was a phase he just never grew out of.
‘Mac’, as we called him, should never have been a lawyer, and, to be fair, never really wanted to be one. He was more suited to journalism or writing and indeed, after a three-year prison sentence for possession of two weapons (hence his underworld sobriquet ‘Jimmy Two Guns’) brought an end to his spectacular and outrageous legal career, he embarked on a successful 20-year stint as a television drama script writer.
Quite a good writer too, if Chandler meets Taggart is your thing. Mac’s story rattles along breathlessly, relentlessly and always humorously as he embarks on his one man crusade to defeat the cops and the forces of the Crown. But in the process he is inexorably drawn towards the dubious glamour of gangsterism like a moth to a candle – after all, not many legal memoirs have a foreword by the well-known Glasgow underworld figure Paul Ferris.
The book opens with the author’s dramatic arrest for the possession of two unlicensed pistols before cutting back to his university days where his lifetime of challenging authority gets underway. He has a good eye for detail and goes on to vividly capture the life of a young apprentice lawyer in the Edinburgh of the eighties. Numerous amusing vignettes of legal figures pepper the pages, some of them a wee bit cruel.
His rollercoaster legal career includes a legendary seven-day ‘lie down’ in Saughton Prison in which he thwarts expectant drug squad detectives by failing to evacuate his bowels for a week, his attempted murder by machete-wielding thugs (Mac maintains the underworld code of ‘omerta’ and is circumspect about their identity), a four-day incarceration on minor motoring charges and his final denouement on the weapons offences.
Amusing accounts of court cases where he does battle for his clients are plentiful and this book will be of interest to lawyers of the time and perhaps to younger readers wishing to know how it was.
Mac’s rebellious nature does not seem to have tempered over the years. He remains defiant and scathing about the legal system but he does allow himself one regret – that of bringing heartache and distress to his elderly mother over the years. As well he might.
Jimmy Two Guns: The Life and Crimes of a Gangland Lawyer by James J McIntyre. Published by Black & White Publishing, 256pp.