Thursday, December 22, 2005

A book worth reading - Death Row Defender

I recently read a book that is well worth reading if you are a mystery fan, a crime fiction fan, or someone interested in the criminal justice system, all things that I am interested in. The boook is Death Row Defender, and the writer is Ray Dix. First, a disclaimer, many months ago Ray wrote me about his book, and later sent me a copy. To the extent that Ray sent me the book for free, saving me $12 and the trouble of going to the store or buying online, my review could conceivably be colored by his generosity. That being said, I've had other books sent to me by other writers that have not merited reviews in the past, so that should allay you concern that I'm writing this out of some misguided sense of $12 obligation.

Ray's book is about an death penalty appellate lawyer named Woody Thomas in Florida who picks up his newest case. A young man named John Clayton is on death row accused of raping and killing a woman several years earlier. He is set to be executed shortly, and Thomas is tasked with looking to see if there were any issues missed in the case worthy of further appellate review that may save his life. Only, Clayton doesn't want Thomas to "save his life" (ie - get him life in prison), Clayton wants to get out, because he's innocent. Fat chance.

The book takes you through the legal process of death row inmates, as well as the underlying trial, and the drama behind the initial killing, coverup, and attempts to dissuade Thomas from conducting his investigation into the underlying crime. The story is very interesting, the drama is very real, and aside from the thriller aspect to the book, it gives a terrific insight into the life, mindset, and complexity of a defense lawyer. Rather than being a bleeding heart do-gooder, which is how most people probably think of defense lawyers, Thomas is that, but he is also hardened by his time serving in Vietnam, rough around the edges at times, sensitive and caring at others. He maintains a high degree of incredulity about both things his client and law enforcement say to him. He has close friends in both camps (as many defense lawyers do). In short, he is a complex person with a complex past who you begin to really like as the story goes on.

The book is a quick read, once you start it is engrossing and hard to put down. Good thing it isn't too long, as I tend to put aside things like, well, work, when I find a good book, which I did for this book. There were many times in court when I was all too accomadating to other lawyers in court letting them go ahead of me while reading the book.

In closing, I would highly recommend this book. The name doesn't say much about the book, but don't hold it against Ray and his book. I could easily see this becoming the type of book where the character recurs in many future volumes dealing with new cases. Unfortunately, in contrast with books like those of Patricia Cornwall, Jonathon Kellerman or other mystery writers, one would not expect to have lawyers continually run into the type of excitement that Woody Thomas seems to find himself in this case. If he does, then that would be a jurisdiction that I would never like to practice in. So, if you can make him a reucurring character, go for it Ray, if not, I enjoyed his one appearance in print.

Now, can I get a piece of the movie deal......:)

No comments: