A young attorney struggles to humanize the law—and himself—in this quietly absorbing legal tale.
Fired from his high-powered Boston law firm for an unseemly attack of conscience, 32-year-old Mark Langley has descended to the lowest rung of the lawyering trade as a legal services attorney doing eviction cases in his blue-collar hometown of Worcester, Mass. In the assembly-line proceedings of Housing Court, there’s little he can do for his impoverished clients—many of them tenants in the town’s bleak housing projects—except postpone the day they’ll be evicted. Then a case comes along with a mixture of technicalities and pathos that grabs his attention: a single mom faces eviction from public housing because her son was arrested on drug charges; a guilty verdict would cause her other son to lose his college scholarship. While he pursues a long-shot trial in the case, Mark also squares off against the haughty mandarins in his old firm to challenge the corrupt diversion of anti-poverty funds to a well-connected developer. In his first novel, Dinnocenzo, himself an attorney with legal-services experience, ventures into John Grisham territory—a callow, idealistic lawyer battles the establishment—but with less histrionics and more social insight. Poverty, chaos and infuriating regulations precipitate one crisis after another in the lives of his underclass strivers. The seemingly low-stakes Housing Court becomes an arena of tense legal strategizing and real drama, where verdicts destroy families. Writing in a limpid, nuanced prose, Dinnocenzo crafts sharp but subtle portraits of his characters and their agonizing dilemmas. Mark in particular is a flawed but appealing hero plagued by self-doubt and courtroom stage fright. He’s torn between glittering yuppie Boston and dilapidated Worcester as he obsessively sharpens his arguments in pursuit of justice for people who can’t afford it otherwise.
A notable debut that infuses an engrossing legal procedural with deep empathy.