Reviewed by Lynn S. Muster
Comprised of separate, largely unrelated, chapters, the short
tales in this book unfold akin to a "Murder, She Wrote" episode,
i.e., in a folksy, informal way without legalese. This simplicity
makes the book accessible to novices, with each chapter a separate
legal case of the protagonist, Attorney Jake Dellahunt. Although
the book, overall, was entertaining, it is not at all realistic;
not even close. The cases in each chapter wrap up a little too
neatly, a little too quickly. For lawyers, it just might not
satisfy a yen for twisted or complex legal drama.
For example, in a climactic moment of cross-examination, Jake
does not catch the witness in a tangle of lies or prior
inconsistent statements, but nevertheless asks a long-winded
question, laying out many facts not in evidence. The witness
"look[s] pathetic. Unable to answer, he folded like a card table."
Not in too many courtrooms would a question in that form be asked
without a strenuous, and sustained, objection following it. And in
not too many courtrooms would a witness fold so dramatically, never
mind "like a card table."
Character development also is limited by the chapter format.
Jake possesses some nuance in this short book, as do one or two
minor characters. But, like the unrelated cases in the average
lawyer's client files, each chapter has new actors and new
relationships, which does not lend itself to much in-depth
exploration of personalities and backstories.
And then there was the troubled relationship Jake has with his
older son, which (spoiler alert) resolves mid-book after the son
gets into trouble on a jet ski and needs to be rescued by the U.S.
Coast Guard. The relationship does not resolve because Jake had
much to do with the rescue, nor because the son saw Jake in action
in the courtroom and admired his legal acumen. Instead, the
resolution evolves almost sua sponte, with little grounding in the
storyline, when the son tritely asks Jake to resume calling him,
"Little Jake," a nickname from which the son had disassociated
earlier in the book.
In provincial Massachusetts, readers will enjoy the local flavor
of Martha's Vineyard, i.e., "the island." Despite this, here are
minor inaccuracies regarding the legal system. First, Massachusetts
courts refer to their courtroom security personnel as court
officers, not "bailiffs," as written in the book. Another
inaccuracy, though perhaps merely poetic license, is when Jake
tells a potential client, "They don't charge anyone with intent to
sell for holding a couple of ounces" of marijuana. The criminal
dockets in the commonwealth are full of distribution charges for
those possessing quantities less than "a couple of ounces," which
is almost 57 grams and, criminal practitioners know, it is
illegal for any amount of marijuana to be sold.
Despite these shortcomings for its legal readership, the book
can be completed in a weekend, and it will not tax the reader's
mind. And, in the cold, hard, depths of a Boston winter, it might
be enjoyable to suspend reality, to read -- and dream -- about
summer on the Vineyard.