For a moment, Edward felt a sense of dislocation. It was strange to be sitting here, from prison inmate to lawyer questioning the district attorney’s sister, in a couple of years. His life track had not led here,” Bexar County Assistant District Attorney and author Jay Brandon writes of the protagonist in his latest novel From the Grave
The book is Brandon’s 19th in a career creating fiction that spans Texas courtrooms, international espionage and family tragedy.
In From the Grave
, Edward Hall, a former lawyer and ex-prisoner, considers an offer from District Attorney Julia Lipscomb, whose sister survived a kidnapping. The opportunity? Have his disbarment rescinded if, during a probationary period, he tries one case and loses. What’s more, Hall already knows his client, alleged kidnapper Donald Willis, from his time in the pen.
During his incarceration, Hall and Willis developed a mutual trust. Hall offered legal advice, while the accused kidnapper offered protection from the advances of other inmates. After meeting again on the outside, Hall worries taking the case is a conflict of interest, but Willis refuses to have anyone else represent him.
Ultimately, that concern proves trivial as the pair uncover larger discrepancies in the accusation and go head-to-head with prosecutor Veronica Salazar.
Though several of Brandon’s novels — Fade the Heat
, Milagro Lane
— are set in San Antonio, this one takes place in post-Hurricane Harvey Houston, a setting given rich description. “One of its victims had been the Criminal Justice Center, the 20-plus-story downtown tower,” whose occupants moved to the civil courthouse, Brandon writes, “but the difference in atmosphere was the same as between an auto repair shop and a cathedral.”
Brandon’s urban environment also reveals the cultural chasm between accused kidnapper Willis’ home in the Third Ward, where shotgun shacks are fodder for gentrification, and River Oaks, where the estate of his alleged victim is a façade of wealth.
Brandon’s background as an attorney gives him skillful command in revealing not only courtroom tension but also in the moral tension that is justice. Behind it lies, for example, an implicit protocol around the “Rule,” a rarely rescinded law that mandates a witness may not be present while other witnesses testify.
The reader can’t help but marvel at what Brandon’s own trial experience brings to his description of lawyers’ nearly imperceptible courtroom signals.
The novel, however, is more than a legal thriller. Read it for a larger aim: an examination of what we often call into question — our career choices, where we live and how others perceive us.
Reading from From the Grave with Jay Brandon
Wednesday, January 29, 5 p.m., The Twig Book Shop, 306 Pearl Parkway, Suite 106, (210) 826-6411, thetwig.com
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