Fatal Cruise: The Trial of Robert Frisbee


384 pages
Contains Photos
ISBN 0-7710-2663-3
DDC 345.71'02523




Reviewed by Sarah Robertson

Sarah Robertson is an editor in the College Division of Nelson Canada.


“Agatha Christie would never have stooped so low.” Such was defence
lawyer William Deverell’s first response to the lurid facts
surrounding the August 1985 murder of wealthy socialite Muriel Barnett
aboard an Alaska cruise ship. Accused of the fatal bludgeoning was
Robert Frisbee, long-time secretary-companion to the victim and her late
husband, Philip Barnett, a prominent lawyer and businessman with whom
Frisbee had been sexually involved.

Deverell’s credentials as a writer of best-selling thrillers serve
him well in this fast-paced, entertaining, and ultimately poignant
account of a trial that the media were quick to dub “Stuff of
Soaps.” In his defence of Frisbee, Deverell put forward a plea of
“non-insane automatism,” which argues that “a person commits no
offence if the mind was not with the body when the crime was
committed.” Frisbee, who had been present at the murder scene, alleged
that a mixture of alcohol and Lithium had induced in him an alcoholic
blackout of the event. Deverell was backed into the automatism defence,
with all its attendant pitfalls, by the fact that Canadian law, unlike
other jurisdictions, does not recognize the concept of diminished

Fatal Cruise presents an inside look at the flawed worlds of police
procedure and criminal justice, in which bungled investigations and
partisan judges are commonplace. Deverell also forces a timely debate on
the concept of automatism in Canadian law. But the emotional core of the
book rests with the character of Robert Frisbee. Amusing, gentle,
pathetic, and infuriatingly passive, this defendant had to be restrained
by his lawyer from knitting in the courtroom. The dénouement of his
rollercoaster trial is wrenching.


Deverell, William., “Fatal Cruise: The Trial of Robert Frisbee,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 23, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/11225.