4 / 5 Stars; Legal Thriller
This book's got me rockin'. It may take longer than the duration of this review to get my thoughts straight about it, but you, dear reader, get the juicy take on my first impressions.
A Criminal Defense is a legal thriller set in Center City, Philly, written by Philadelphia's own William L. Myers, Jr., a civil defense attorney—which, of course, means he knows his stuff. The opening gives the reader a snapshot into the life of Mick McFarland, his everyday struggles, and his aspirations as a criminal defense attorney.
Then all hell breaks loose.
An old friend of Mick's stands accused of murdering a reporter, and he asks Mick to represent him in court. Mick uncovers layer upon layer of political plots as he works to organize their defense, and as the consequences of the crime drive a wedge deeper and deeper into the cracks of Mick's family, he is forced to choose between what is moral and what is safe to knit his family back together—and win the case.
I positively zipped through this fast-paced thriller and finished it in record time. Myers has a way of building tension and ending chapters on such a dramatic note that its nearly impossible to lay the book down for the night. It's like reading the friggin' Hunger Games.
A Criminal Defense was a gripping story with a complex plot; beautiful, morally-ambiguous characters; and a fascinating peek into the inner workings of a lawyer's analytical mind and delicate finesse.
The story is written in first person present, which means the writing is active and enthralling, and Myers's writing style is as tight and precise as you might expect from someone who crafts arguments like its his job.
Oh wait—that is his job.
All that gushing aside, I got some beef.
There's a twist at the end of the novel which, while definitely fantastic, is also something I could in no way have been prepared for. In fact, I had to turn back and skim through earlier parts of the novel out of suspicion that the set-up didn't support the reveal. As it turns out, the details were meticulously crafted to be consistent with the twist while still remaining ambiguous. So, hat's off to Myers for his dexterity there.
BUT, I'm left mildly enraged by the holes in the narrative that set up the big surprise. I feel I've been thoroughly duped.
AND YET, I still really, really enjoyed this read, and I can hardly say the ending was unsatisfying. And anyway, the beautiful portrayal of the relationships between the members of Mick's family, the betrayals and love in spite of those, make for a really heartening message.
I first heard about author William L. Myers Jr., when I attended a panel discussion at Open Book Bookstore*, an indie bookshop on the outskirts of Philly. I was impressed by his thoughtful approach to writing and his diligent research in crafting a novel outside of his wheelhouse in the field of criminal law. I had a feeling I would really enjoy his writing style, and I'm happy to report A Criminal Defense did not disappoint.
*As an aside, Open Book hosts a ton of events every month that connect readers and writers alike, that serve to create community and resource writers to be able to do their best work and get familiar with the process of publication. I highly recommend you check them out.
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