Is there anything more intriguing than a courtroom drama? Full or predictability and uncertainty at the same time? The cast of characters known and clearly defined, yet a mystery. The police who are charged with enforcing the law but always suspected of using it for their own ends. The surly judge, the bureaucratic prosecutor, the witnesses who can sink or save a case on the turn of a phrase. The jurors, the most mysterious of them all, that band of unknowable everyday folk, who sit stoned faced day after day, listening (or are they sleeping with their eyes open?). The defense attorney fighting an uphill battle against what seems to be inevitable.
They’re all here and more in Margaret McLean’s new novel, UNDER OATH. The story takes place in Robert-Parker-Land, more commonly known as Boston Mass. Ms McLean cites Aeschylus: It is not the oath that makes us believe the man but the man the oath. I’d guess Aeschylus never lived in the one square mile of Boston known as Charlestown where the motto of the living is: see nothing, hear nothing, never talk to cops. There’s even a program that, a first blush, sounds like it might be a kind of Head-Start after school thing. It’s called the After Murder Program. I’s run by the church for mothers whose sons and daughters are victims of murder. This group provides an added weight to the courtroom as they sit day after day in the front row, wearing matching shirts, bearing silent witness.
The novel has a strong visual quality, the scenes, or chapters, are short and to the point. To add to the visual effect several oil paintings, one in particular, are at the center of the case. Annie Fitzgerald, the prosecutor, is a striking, tall redheaded Irish/Asian who everyone considers too good to be doing what she’s doing, where she’s doing it. Why is she is Boston? This question comes up a number of times. Could it be she has a score to settle?
Buddy Clancy, an aged defense attorney is sly, shrewd and capable. And maybe worse than that, he’s likeable. To add to the novel’s visual quality he wears decorative bow ties themed to the action in the courtroom. Callahan, the seasoned detective, can’t seem to catch a break and winds up on the wrong side of almost everyone at one time or another. It makes you want to iron his suit or something, anything to help him out.
And then to my personal favorite characters, Elaine Wilson and Louie Henderson, jurors both. Louie has had a baloney sandwich, with chunks of butter and mayo on Wonder Bread, for his lunch his whole adult life and he’s not about to change. Elaine Wilson can’t get enough of the free buffet lunch provided to jurors and just shakes her head at Louie and his baloney. She also can’t seem to follow the judge’s instructions. She will read and watch anything that has to do with the case, she can’t wait to get home and phone her friends about it, she’s infuriating. And she lives in that one square mile of heaven called Charlestown.
The book is an easy read, a page turner. The dialogue is often crisp without being terse. We can hope Ms McLean will continue to embellish these characters in future works.
UNDER OATH ISBN: 978-0-7653-2813-7
Thanks for listening.