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In the Shadow of the Law: A Novel Hardcover – May 26, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. This outstanding debut goes behind the scenes at Morgan Siler, one of Washington, D.C.'s most powerful K Street law firms, as several lawyers become embroiled in two difficult cases: a pro bono death penalty case in Virginia and a class action suit brought against a Texas chemical corporation after an explosion kills dozens of workers. Assigned to the pro bono case is the earnest, rumpled first-year associate Mark Clayton, who wonders, as he struggles with sleep deprivation and trying to reach his billable-hours target, if he hasn't made a terrible career choice. Also on the case is the brilliant, cocksure young lawyer Walker Eliot. Leading the Hubble Chemical defense is the ferocious litigator Harold Fineman, and lording over them all is Peter Morgan, the supremely confident, never-satisfied managing partner of the firm. Though the novel features plenty of satisfying twists and turns, the book transcends the legal thriller genre. Roosevelt, who practiced and teaches law and who once clerked for Justice Souter, offers a fascinating insider's look into the culture of a high-stakes firm, while also presenting a considered meditation on the law itself and its potential to compromise those driven to practice it. Most of all it's the vividness and complexity of the characters—drawn with the precision and authority of a winning legal argument—that heralds the arrival of an exciting new voice. Agent, Tina Bennett. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
If the first few pages of Roosevelt's debut call to mind John Grisham, don't be fooled. This isn't a plot-driven legal thriller of the sort Grisham writes. The protagonist is Law, with a capital L, and Roosevelt, who has both taught and practiced law, creates his story with full attention to his subject's multidimensional personality. Law is greedy, amoral, ruthless, and all-consuming; yet, in its own way, it is elegant, even beautiful, and fair, when practiced by lawyers with conscience. Law thoroughly overshadows the human characters: Wayne Harper, awaiting execution on Virginia's death row; the victims of an explosion in a Texas chemical factory; even a group of legal associates learning the ropes at Morgan Siler, a top D.C. law firm. "If you give yourself to the [law], it will give you something in return," one of the partners tells a puzzled associate. He's right, but the gift isn't always what's expected. Legal terms and concepts abound so this isn't breezy reading; thought-provoking is a much more accurate description. Stephanie Zvirin
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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No one is happy to be in the law and those that are, those that allow it to consume, are pitiful: Peter Morgan and his obsession with hours not billed and thus lost, Harold who can only view passionate engagement with another through the lens of efficacy as an advocate, and Ryan whose office games and frat-house view of women lead him at last to embrace the law as identity. It is a study in unhappiness and, while the structure of law firms does not seem conducive to human flourishing, the book on the whole seems slanted against the commercial, as opposed to academic/government, enterprise of law.
Perhaps this the reason for my impatience is this: the characters are not particularly interesting nor are they drawn with a fine eye for detail. A two-word summation is sufficient for most--the dependable idealist, the fortunate incompetent, the airy prodigy, the garish litigator... The lawyers of Morgan Siler are faint sketches that are easy to care little about.
if you are looking for a fast, zippy read, you might do better to look elsewhere. roosevelt focuses a great deal on the philosophy of the law and how this philosophy weaves itself into the souls of his characters. the information on clerking for the supreme court is good stuff, particularly how it 'runs the deaths,' but all the opera/valkyrie mess with harold got a bit forced.
there are 3 legal-ly plots twisted throughout this book and it often seemed that just when one plot was getting juicy, roosevelt would switch over to philosophy mode and the reader would have to pan through a 15 page essay on legal theory. zzzzz. i found myself skimming those parts and not losing out on much.
overall, i recommend this book, particularly if you are a lawyer or, God bless you, thinking about becoming one. if you are just a legal-thriller enthusiast, this book might be a bit heavy.
Senator Mike Fair
Oklahoma State Senate, retired