Samuel Elijah Johnson is a guy in prison who is innocent. Yeah, yeah, yeah. They’re all innocent, those guys locked up. But Sam really is, and for the last 12 years has been studying to get his law degree, and now all he has to do is take the bar and he is a bona fide lawyer. He goes before the panel for his parole hearing once again, with plenty of notes lined up nice and logically to plead his case. Instead, he speaks from the heart:
“I have told this board before that I am innocent, but that – is not quite the truth. I am innocent of the crime I was accused of. I have all kinds of notes and legal stuff to prove it. I graduated law school on Tuesday, intendin’ to come in here and present a great defense for myself.
“I can do that if y’all want, but I have done that before and it hasn’t worked real well. I can tell ya’ this. I came to prison a lot more innocent than I am now. This place has changed me and I am not sure yet if that’s completely for the better or for the worse, but I got myself a degree. ….
“So if you ask me if I am reformed, I will tell ya’ I think I am. I just need a shot to prove it; and if I ain’t, y’all know I’ll end up back in here anyway.”
While in prison, he meets a ‘newbie’, a young man, also claiming his innocence, who has a rich father. He wants Sam to take his case if Sam makes parole. He would be Sam’s first client.
Chapter Two – we meet Arthur, a quiet man in his late twenties raised by a fanatical fundamentalist mother and a go-along father, who has a good job, lives alone now that both his parents have died, and hears voices — their voices. His mother constantly rails at him, calling him a filthy boy, and quotes scripture to him, and his father constantly counsels patience.
Arthur has yearned after a pretty chick named Sally since high school. He sees her in church all the time, but he has never approached her. Eventually she gives up and marries Randy, a nice enough fellow, and they produce a couple of kids.
One day Sally invites him over for dinner. Randy is not particularly pleased with this, but agrees. After a time, a friendship of sorts forms between Randy and Arthur, and Sally continues to come on to him. He decides that he will kill Randy so that he can have Sally.
His mother’s voice is constantly disparaging him and threatening him with hellfire and damnnation, his father counsels patience, and damn if a new voice doesn’t show up and join in the fray, egging Arthur on.
A schizophrenic young man, an ex-con lawyer with a storefront office donated by the grateful father of the ‘newbie’, whom he managed to get released, and just for a soupçon of zing, we will toss in a murder plot, the FBI, and we have the makings for a delicious whacked out stew that when you think about it, is funny as all get out, but really, the book is in deadly earnest.
Great story, a skewed noir protagonist that you just have to like, and we have the start of an interesting series.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE: Ahh, you can’t have flowers without some showers. At about the halfway point more or less, we are given scenes told individually from the perspective of two or more characters, including repeating a page or so of the same description and dialog. Boring. Unnecessary, slowed the pace down and didn’t do a heck of a lot to advance the story. And at the end, we are treated to a loving sex scene come true that poor Arthur had had in his head back about 200 pages ago. Would have worked for me if it hadn’t been for those redundant other scenes cluttering up the storyline.
WHAT I WAS ALSO A BIT DISAPPOINTED WITH: The first maybe three-quarters of the book was dense and dark, filled with … let me see, how can I explain this?…. profound emotion and perhaps even an existential underlayment that was very effective and portended a novel that would have depth as well as breadth. A guy in prison for twelve years since he was 17years old, trying to put a life together for himself, a shy, demon-ridden young man trying to find a life free from his parents, all the makings of something more than the usual thriller-diller. But alas, at some point, it became simply a storyline of these characters and their convergence, and the substrata of anything more meaningful disappeared, leaving us with just the storyline. I say ‘just the storyline’ as if that were small potatoes, but really, it is a great storyline, it is simply that I was sorry the more significant structure couldn’t have continued. I mean, crap, >>>>>>> spoiler alert >>>>>>
Arthur ends up with the girl! How trite is that! And so unlikely. Pfffffft.
But all in all, I did really like this book, and look forward to what Attorney Johnson, former jailbird and Bible-reading legal eagle, will be up to in the next volume, which I believe is titled Temptation. Lambert has written a number of other books, as well.