Needs More Showing And Less Telling. This is almost “Novel Writing 101” these days, but a classic and oft repeated bit of advice for new writers is that they should *show* the actions of their characters rather than *tell* the readers about it. Here, Grisham – a normally masterful storyteller and legend in the business – somehow manages to miss that, to the detriment of the overall tale here. The tale itself, a multi-generational saga tracing two families through 60 or so years of Coastal Mississippi history, is actually quite good. I was 15% into the tale before I even realized it, and not much had happened at that point. The back quarter to third or so could *really* have been quite legendary in its own right with more showing and less telling, but even in this format it was still a compelling tale. The ending is a bit abrupt and perhaps too open-ended for some readers, but other than the abruptness I thought it actually worked reasonably well. But getting there, across nearly 500 pages that other readers have compared to investigative nonfiction rather than an legal fictional thriller, can in fact be a bit of a slog. Still, other than the “show don’t tell” aspect, there really isn’t anything here to actually say “this is particularly bad” about. Thus, only the single star reduction. Still, this really is a great tale for those who can bear with it, and for that reason it is very much recommended.
This review of The Boys From Biloxi by John Grisham was originally written on October 17, 2022.
Strong Legal Thriller Debut. As a former District Attorney’s Office employee (I worked on their tech) and (mostly) former police accountability activist who also happens to be a former trailer park kid… I have quite a bit in common with our hero of this new series. Which may have made this particular book have a bit more impact for me – while not having these *exact* experiences, I’ve been close enough that they all rang all too true. And what experiences we have, from having (and losing) it all in order to truly find yourself (which to be clear, never really happened in my own life) to crime lords not caring about the “little people” they are destroying to cops, prosecutors, and judges – who are *supposed* to care about those very people – placing their own profits and aspirations ahead of truly serving the people and truly seeking justice. Of course, Barretto also does himself a few favors in setting the book in the early 80s, before American police – and the entire “justice” system – became as militarized as it now stands, and before activists really rose in response to such militarization. For example, data does not exist for the period in question, yet American police are known to have killed over 10,000 people within the last decade as I write this review. In setting this story (and likely series?) in such a “simpler” time, Barretto manages to be able to tell his tale(s) without having to worry about such issues. Overall truly a solid legal thriller that also provides a solid look at some areas many might prefer not to see. Very much recommended.
This review of Mystic Wind by James Barretto was originally written on September 5, 2022.
Erin Brockovich In Appalachia. This is one of those books where the description from the publisher really does tell you pretty well exactly what the book is about: One town’s, and really one man’s, courtroom war against a coal company that was polluting its water supplies. There are the requisite dives into the various histories of the prominent people, including the lawyer, the CEO of the company, and the general region itself – home of the infamous feud between the Hatfields and McCoys – but mostly this is a tale of how the courtroom drama came to be, how the war was waged, and its ultimate outcomes. If you’re looking for a more general examination of Appalachia and its issues… this isn’t that. But if you’re interested in “Little Guy vs Big [Insert Industry]”… this is gonna be right up your alley. Very much recommended.
This review of Desperate by Kris Maher was originally written on August 18, 2021.
This week we’re looking at a compelling court room drama set in a fascinating world. This week we’re looking at An Unreliable Truth by Victor Methos.
But A Reliable Author. This was my first time reading this author, which makes me a bit different from most of the other ARC reviewers on Goodreads just under three weeks before publication. And I can tell you without hesitation that this is a perfectly fine first-for-you book, so long as you don’t mind coming into a world where at least some of the characters have already had other adventures with each other. (Though the way this one reads, one presumes even the first book was written such that the reader is coming in to already-established relationships.) The crime at the heart of this one is particularly grisly, and worthy of a capital trial (for those that believe murdering a murderer is something anyone, let alone a government, should be allowed to do). The personal dramas among the lawyers are compelling. The courtroom drama as the lawyers fight with and against each other is at least as compelling as any other factor. And the outcomes are satisfying within the realms of the world and particular story – though that in no way gives you any hint as to what they actually are. 😀 Basically, if you like courtroom dramas, you’re likely going to like this one. If you like compelling mysteries, you’re likely to like this one. If you like just good stories period, you’re likely to like this one. So if you’re open to any of the above at all, you should read this book. 😉 Very much recommended.
If you liked Steena Holmes’ THE PATIENT or Kerry Lonsdale’s EVERYTHING series (all excellent books that you should absolutely read if you haven’t yet)…
You’re *definitely* going to like this one. Palmer takes a similar base idea and puts a spin on it that neither Holmes nor Lonsdale did. This is somewhat of a slow burn, but the mystery is compelling throughout. And then that last 10% of the book (well, from roughly 90% – roughly 98%) is some explosive courtroom stuff straight out of John Grisham’s best works.
And if you were already a fan of Palmer… this may be his best one yet. Seriously. 😀
This review of The Perfect Daughter by DJ Palmer was originally written on December 4, 2020.
This week we’re looking at a strong British courtroom thriller that seems to set up a new series. This week we’re looking at Take It Back by Kia Abdullah.
Writer’s block still plagues me, but here’s the Goodreads/ BookBub review:
Nuanced Courtroom Thriller. This is an interesting one. One with a main protagonist that… has several rough edges, at least a couple of which come back to bite her. One with a strong commentary about the role of Muslims in British (and by slight extension, Western) society, at many different levels. One with a strong discussion of what it means to be the “other”… in so many different ways. And one with secrets almost literally to the last word. Tremendous book, and very much recommended.
Solid Examination More Memoir Than Treatise. I was actually going to 4* this one until I went back and re-read the description, which did in fact hint at this being more memoir than treatise – which was my only real reason for docking the star. I had thought, reading it well after actually picking it up, that I was getting more treatise with just a smattering of memoir.
That noted, Katzberg does a remarkable job of showing the problems he notes as only an insider can, and sets the stage for further exploration – perhaps, as he so often notes, from someone more scholarly inclined – of the exact issues, their exact causes and histories, and maybe some examination of potential solutions, even including Katzberg’s own. Ultimately more Failure Is Not An Option (Gene Kranz’s remarkable memoir of his time as a Flight Director during the Apollo era) than Rise Of the Warrior Cop (Radley Balko’s complete record of policing in America and in particular its militarization of the last 50 years or so), this is truly a spectacular effort, well written with concise points, solid anecdotes, and an appropriate smattering of humor. Very much recommended.
This review of The Vanishing Trial by Robert Katzberg was originally written on June 22, 2020.