Dean’s (Cryptic, 2016, etc.) short story collection explores the darker—and supernatural—side of the American judicial system through the centuries.
The opening tale, “Witch Tryals (1692),” like the three stories that follow it, begins in familiar terrain. Puritans in the late 17th century are accusing people of witchcraft and sentencing them to death. But the witches in Salem Town, who practice “white magic,” mete out their own brand of justice against those who commit perjury to ensure wrongful convictions. “Judge and Jury,” the longest story, is set in the Old West in 1881. In it, Dr. Donovan encounters robbers on his way to the lawless town of Canyon Diablo, Arizona. The town’s new sheriff, Sam Canton, saves him and throws one of the outlaws in jail—but members of his notorious gang are intent on breaking him out. Fortunately, Donovan has a strange device of his own design to combat them—even beyond death. “The Devil Made Me Do It!” follows the televised 1978 trial of Derrek Wagner, who declares that he murdered people at the devil’s command—but a surprise witness may counter that claim. In the near-future world of “The Wheel,” a new, particularly savage form of capital punishment may well steer some from lives of crime. Dean ably tackles serious issues throughout this collection, from religious persecution to kangaroo courts. The no-frills prose not only maintains a steady pace for each story, but also effectively grounds the supernatural components, making someone returning from the dead, for example, seem plausible. Likewise, Dean takes time in establishing his characters. Defense attorney Barry Palmer is a relatively minor player in “The Wheel,” for instance, but the author deepens his portrayal, showing him to be a lawyer with a high success rate who’s likely facing a losing case. Despite the stories’ horrific elements, they’re neither graphic nor excessively violent.
Straightforward fantasy tales showcasing diverse forms of alleged justice.