As though we'd been waiting for a sequel to Gunning for Justice (1982), Wyoming trial lawyer Spence plods through his...

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OF MURDER AND MADNESS

As though we'd been waiting for a sequel to Gunning for Justice (1982), Wyoming trial lawyer Spence plods through his autobiography again--this time as backdrop and counterpoint to an overblown account of the life and trial of Joe Esquibel, a Mexican-American who shot and killed his Anglo ex-wife before eight eyewitnesses in the Rawlins, Wyoming welfare office. After seven years (which Esquibel, found not capable of standing trial, spent in the state mental hospital) Spance persuaded a jury that the killer was not guilty by reason of insanity. Was Esqulbel really insane? Well, maybe. Spence and his partner first took this ""case of murder totally without redemption"" as an ultimate act of trial lawyers' hubris (""a proctological examination of the very system itself""). But, as they delved into Esquibel's background, they found fodder for madness; mom was a part-time prostitute who worked the boxcars in Rawlins' freight yards and abandoned her six kids, unfed, for days at a time; the kids were declared neglected by the state and sent off to institutions; young Joe became a street-brawler (many head injuries, possibly significant) and the town stud. At 16, he met Sharon--two years older, wild, wealthy (by comparison), and white; he was her ""pet tiger,"" she was his obsession. Her mother's opposition (she had them both jailed for ""fornication"") didn't help. Three kids, then marriage, then a divorce Joe didn't want, then a point-blank gunshot to the head. ""I loved her an' everythin', but I couldn't stop her from runnin' roun' with them white guys."" Joe seemed to get crazier, if anything, after being found unfit to stand trial, though the psychiatrists' views differed (schizophrenia? hatred of mom taken out on Sharon? brain damage? epilepsy? faking?). Ultimately, one key shrink who'd earlier testified for the state came around to the defense side--largely, one suspects, out of fear of being dismembered again by Spence on cross-examination (no minor matter, since Spence is the type who gets a lift out of a cross that ""wiped out the magic that shrouded the mother of the murdered""). The Spence autobiographical material, much of it repeated from Gunning for Justice (leaving home at 16 for the merchant marine; a first marriage to Anna, who ""opened up my very being""; the shattering suicide of his ""angel mother""; leaving Anna for a second wife whom he ""renames"" Imaging Crow), may have been intended to show that Spence somehow identified with Joe Esquibel; but it succeeds only in being distracting when it isn't unintentionally funny (lots of macho posturing). All in all: spottily effective in its snapshots of smalltown life in Wyoming, but generally pretentious and pointless.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 1983

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1983

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