THE PAPER LAWYER by Carlos Cisneros


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A legal novel that tries, and tries, to wrap its arms around race, ethics, redemption, and immigration.

Camila Harrison, protagonist of Cisneros’ fourth legal thriller (The Land Grant, 2012, etc.), is a hotshot lawyer in Austin, Texas, engaged to a member of the Texas Supreme Court. She has a promising future, a beautiful office, and a loving fiance. She’s also a bigot. Despite being half-Mexican, Harrison hates and resents pretty much all minorities, and she has a special hatred for undocumented immigrants. Harrison’s career falls apart when emails she's written containing racial slurs are leaked to the press. She loses the fiance, the fancy job, and pretty much her entire life. A few months later, she’s slumming it as a Social Security disability lawyer in Houston. Cisneros has given himself quite a task and a long list of weighty questions. What drives people to hate? Are forgiveness and redemption possible? Should they be? Can readers get behind a person who is “surprised to find out that her illegal-alien client could actually carry on a regular conversation.”? Harrison’s path to redemption begins when she takes on her first federal case. Vicente Aldama came to the United States illegally so he could pay for his daughter’s lifesaving surgery. After Aldama is arrested and charged with money laundering, Harrison is his only hope. Cisneros hits his stride when the legal machinations and dark conspiracies start to emerge. Harrison goes on a crusade for justice against corrupt police officers and the justice system as a whole. The problem is that Harrison has a long road to redemption, and many readers just won’t have the stomach for her journey. Even more puzzling, the racial subplot fizzles out in the second half of the novel. It’s almost as if Cisneros lost patience with his own setup and decided to write a more traditional legal thriller instead. Cisneros deals with important and timely topics, and you can tell he has a fundamentally optimistic view of the justice system and people’s capacity for change. Ultimately, Cisneros succeeds too well in making his protagonist unlikable.

A legal thriller short on thrills and long on social commentary.

Pub Date: March 31st, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-55885-849-7
Page count: 349pp
Publisher: Arte Público
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2019


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