From the cover:
A homeless veteran is beaten to death by the police. Stormy protests ensue, engulfing a small New Jersey town. Soon after, three cops are gunned down.
A multi-state manhunt is underway for a cop killer on the loose. And Dr. Tessa Thorpe, a veteran’s counselor, is caught up in the chase.
Donald Darfield, an African-American Iraqi war vet, war-time buddy of the beaten man, and one of Tessa’s patients, is holed up in a mountain cabin. Tessa, acting on instinct, sets off to find him, but the swarm of law enforcement officers get there first leading to Darfield’s dramatic capture.
Not the only thing separating him from the lethal needle of state justice is Tessa and a 62-year old blind lawyer, Nathaniel Bodine, himself a Vietnam vet. Can they untangle the web tightening around Darfield and the war veterans in time when the press and the justice system are baying for revenge?
Justice Gone is the first in a series of psychological thrillers involving Dr Tessa Thorpe, wrapped in the divisive issues of American society, written by N. Lombardi Jr, author of the compelling and heartfelt novel, The Plain of Jars
Justice Gone is wonderfully strong, yet supple story, concisely interwoven with pertinent, even provocative points on some of today’s (American) society’s ills. About how we treat those we have pushed beyond their own personal ability to cope and our inevitable responsibilities to them, if we want to think we have a society where all are treated with equanimity and equality, under the (blind) eyes of the law or not.
A homeless vet gets moved along by the Police, he doesn’t want to resist, yet they think he does, things escalate from there, and they beat him to death. Maybe they think they can get away with that kind of thing, either in the New Jersey town, or in America today, I don’t know. They clearly feel they are, through being custodians of the law, above or beyond its reach. As they are police, they also clearly hope to play on societies in-built and ‘the police wouldn’t do that’ and general ‘well, there must have been something, he must have done something, to cause the situation he ended up suffering in. But, the man is a veteran, who generally, as the police, in society’s eyes, are untouchable. So who is right and who is wrong here? But there’s something else, there’s a video recording of the incident. And the vet has friends, comrades, fellow soldiers, who are trained to kill. And someone kills several of the policemen involved. Is that justified? If the upholders of the law turn unlawful, who then can right the wrong? If the veterans feel they can’t trust the officers for the law of the country they fought to defend against those who would like nothing better than to sweep that society away, what is there left to do but re-take that law into your own hands? But who made you judge jury and executioner?
And that’s all before the book has really got started. You see, for a – compared to some of the house-bricks I have read recently – relatively compact book, just three hundred odd pages long, it has a 1000 pages of ideas, problems, right solutions, wrong solutions, blind alleys, red-herrings, talking points, situations and preconceptions to ponder long after you’re done reading. With one twist, though maybe not a twist as such, that threw me. Let’s say Mr Lombardi took me by the hand and led me up the garden path, only to leave me there.
To read, to be challenged in this way, is an absolute joy. To have my feelings on several fronts looked at and questioned – even changed – and learn from that, I have to admit – is what makes me read books in the first place. That and entertainment of course, and that Justice Gone has in spades. The second half, with the lead up to and the trial of the accused, is high drama and great entertainment. The character of Tessa, is a sympathetic portrayal of someone trying to do her best to help those who may need help, the need you can’t see, even in war veterans. (Actually, it does increase your respect for the poor saps who came back after WWII, and pretty much just got a pat on the back and a pack of smokes in the way of crisis help). I did at first reading, wonder if the blind lawyer was a bit of a mistake. He sounded in the blurb both a bit hackneyed, and maybe just a ploy to have a hook to get the story noticed. I also thought, from reading the name, that a Nathaniel Bodine would probably be better placed in the Deep South of the USA, rather than ‘a small New Jersey town.’ I was wrong. And wrong some more. As I read him and his contribution to the second half of the book, yes, I still thought Deep South, but Greg Iles, rather than Burl Ives. He is of course there, to help symbolise the idea that justice is (supposed to be) blind. Where the cover idea comes from as well. His teamwork with his daughter, is inspired and I really, really hope there can be more featuring him (and her) in subsequent books. Even a spin-off book or two I can see, the character(s) can be that strong.
The American justice system can be a little difficult to follow for someone raised on a jury being chosen by receiving a letter telling you to turn up Monday at 10am, and – where I live now – three semi-professional judges, or one may be professional, with two of them who might actually be laymen. So, the confrontational style of the lawyers, seemingly following rules that change by the minute, or the judge or the area they’re in, I don’t know, is especially interesting, and does, as we know, lend itself to books, tv and films. Here, the mechanics and the manoeuvrings are orchestrated superbly well, with something new to me – well, since seeing 12 Angry Men a hundred years ago anyway – the backstage deliberations and arguments. The warp and weft of ideas, feelings, prejudices, the feather for each wind blows, and the shake your head in wonder at the person who will go along with the majority, just to get off early and go home. For me, there’s an aspect of the book also looking at whether people’s confidence in the court system to get at the truth and the jury system to see that, or interpret that and reach the right, or at least the truthful, decision, can be justified.
So, when I’ve finished, I’m surprised there are so many ideas, ponder points and entertainment in such a deceptively simple and compact book.