by Cynthia Chow
& Robert Rotstein
This week we have a review of Robert Rotstein’s new legal thriller Corrupt Practices, a book that Sue Grafton has given her stamp of approval to! We also have a guest post by Robert called Reality Drama: Novelists and the Legal System, and you can enter to win a copy of the book-details at the end of this post.
Corrupt Practices By Robert Rotstein
Review by Cynthia Chow
Parker Stern was a brilliant and relentless litigator until news of his mentor Harmon Cherry’s suicide triggers paralyzing stage fright. Appearances in the court room now induce panic attacks and render him nearly incoherent, so only a plea from his former law partner Rich Baxter and the guilt-inducing pressure from his other former partner Deanna Poulos have the chance of drawing him back into the legal field. Rich Baxter has been arrested and accused of embezzling millions from the Church of the Sanctified Assembly, once Macklin & Cherry’s most profitable client and their defection with Rich sounded the death knell for the firm. Parker has always despised the powerful and affluent cult and the opportunity to defend Rich against them is the only incentive luring Parker back into the legal field. Rich’s claims that Harmon was murdered and that his own life is in danger is alluring but improbable right up until the moment that Rich is found hanging in his cell.
Despite warnings from the fourth former legal member of Harmon’s Army, Manny Mason, to stay away from the Assembly, Parker cannot resist investigating the organization that cost him so much. As former child actor, Parker emancipated himself as a youth after his acting profits were stolen by his mother and her boyfriend and the funds funneled into the Assembly’s proffers. What had seemed like a pity position as an adjunct professor teaching a law class for Mason now provides Parker with three legal students/assistants who aid him in ferreting through the deluge of legal documents dumped upon him by the Assembly’s legal army. Parker’s most powerful weapon comes in the surprising form of Lovely Diamond, the brilliant daughter of a former porn director and a woman devoted to protecting free speech even as it drags Parker into another case that forces him to examine extremely uncomfortable aspects of his life.
Glowing praise from Sue Grafton promoting this legal thriller will have expectations high for what is expected to be the first Parker Stern novel by entertainment attorney Robert Rotstein. The accolades are entirely deserved as this is an extremely well-plotted mystery that successfully makes the most tedious of court scenes riveting and intersperses them between scenes of emotional drama and physical jeopardy. The characters are crafted equally well with Deanna, Lovely, and Parker becoming involved in a very modern, very complex, and completely believable triangle that influences but never detracts from the main plot. While Parker mocks the Assembly’s practices that started with its establishment 29 years ago, his students challenge his beliefs concerning religion and its impact on society. Parker’s gradual entry back into the court room is also written in a manner that is rewarding to both the character and the reader. While the humor is reminiscent of the legal thrillers of Paul Levine, this novel stands on its own with entertaining wit, likable characters, and a plot that veers off into completely unexpected areas. This novel features a very original lead character who will be endearing to readers and is compelling enough to support a successful series.
Reality Drama: Novelists and the Legal System
By Robert Rotstein
“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,” William Shakespeare famously writes in Henry The Sixth, Part II, reflecting an antipathy toward the legal profession that persists in some quarters to this day. Yet the legal system has for over a century provided the backdrop for novels, and not just for mystery/thrillers like my own Corrupt Practices, but also for classics as diverse as Charles Dickens’s Bleak House, Herman Melville’s Billy Budd the Sailor, and Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. Why have so many novels focused on the law? Because the justice system provides ready-made dramatic elements just waiting for a writer to combine them into a story.
The Anglo-American justice trumpets itself as an “adversary system,” which means that the legal system thrives on conflict—and so does an effective work of fiction. Take the most apparently mundane lawsuit, an auto accident. Smith sues Jones, claiming that Jones changes lanes and smashed into him. Jones says it was Smith who made the illegal lane change. Instant conflict. Now add a witness who says she saw Plaintiff Smith scoping out cars in a restaurant parking lot, and that Smith spent a long time checking out Jones’ expensive Mercedes Benz before following her out of the restaurant. Was Smith setting Jones up? (More drama, and a bit of mystery.) In Corrupt Practices, the protagonist, attorney Parker Stern, hasn’t practiced law since the suicide of his mentor and the break-up of his law firm eighteen months earlier. Then Parker’s former partner, Richard Baxter, is arrested for embezzling millions of dollars from a sinister church and asks Parker to defend him. Baxter claims that he was framed and that their mentor’s death was murder, not suicide. Baxter’s entanglement in the legal system creates automatic conflict and also immediately defines the protagonist, Parker, and the antagonist, the powerful church.
The legal system as the subject of fiction also helps define a story’s characters. In a court case, much depends on who the witnesses are—on their backstories, in other words. In the auto accident hypothetical, suppose that Plaintiff Smith is an ordained minister. Most people will probably have a more favorable view of his credibility than they would if he were an ex-con who served time for check kiting. Or, compare the defendant Jones as an eighty-nine-year-old woman with fading vision and early signs of dementia with Jones as an attractive thirty-year-old former Olympic gymnast. Writing a story about a legal dispute helps the characters’ backstories take shape. In Corrupt Practices, Parker Stern seems like an ordinary trial lawyer until, after his mentor’s death, he begins experiencing severe stage fright every time he enters a courtroom. And Parker’s ability to defend his client becomes more complicated because Baxter remains a devoted member of the very church that has accused him of stealing from them.
The legal system provides a useful template for novelists in another way: it assumes that there’s a right side and a wrong side. This dichotomy raises ethical and moral questions, the grist for great fiction. A court martial in Melville’s Billy Budd shows how earthly legal justice and divine morality sometimes conflict. A rape trial is a springboard for To Kill A Mockingbird’s exploration of personal courage in the face of violent racism. The never-ending lawsuit in Dickens’s Bleak House casts an unjust legal system as the novel’s antagonist, such that neither side wins.
Finally, most lawsuits are fraught with ambiguity, and ambiguity creates mystery. What really happened when those two cars collided? Are the witnesses lying? Will the rich defendant win simply because she has the resources to hire a more expensive lawyer? In Corrupt Practices, these ambiguities expose Parker Stern to great danger and hinder his search for the truth about how his mentor died and whether his client Baxter is a thief.
Shakespeare’s character might have wanted to “kill all the lawyers,” but doing so would deprive fiction writers of a fertile source of ideas—and many good novelists!
To enter to win a copy of Corrupt Practices, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, with the subject line “Corrupt”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen June 14, 2013. U.S. residents only.
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