A historical novel dramatizes a defense attorney’s perilous stand against judicial corruption in Brooklyn.
Troy Jackson is an unusual candidate for a murder suspect—a clean-cut black guidance counselor with a relatively clean criminal record, he owns a home in Brooklyn with his pregnant wife. Nevertheless, he’s arrested for the killing of Menachem Mendel Bernstein, a crime committed seven years ago, on the strength of highly questionable eyewitness testimony. Troy’s wife contacts Ken Williams, a black defense attorney with a reputation for championing the fair judicial treatment of African-Americans in New York City. Meanwhile, Williams has already taken on the case of Jojo Jones, a black inmate who was convicted of the murder of Bernstein’s father, a rabbi, 16 years earlier. Jones was found guilty—without any physical evidence—on the basis of testimony that is revealed to be the fruit of brazen coercion. The deeper Williams digs into the case, the more clearly he discerns a disturbing pattern of widespread corruption on the parts of District Attorney James Neary and Anthony Racanelli, his top prosecutor. And once Williams is able to successfully win Jones’ freedom, mortifying Neary and Racanelli, they respond by arresting him for the assault of a police officer and getting his law license temporarily suspended. Pushed to the brink and filled with rage, Williams decides to challenge Neary for his position and runs for district attorney, a decision quickly followed by death threats and the bombing of his office, which kills Jones. Block (Disrobed: An Inside Look at the Life and Work of a Federal Trial Judge, 2012)—a U.S. district judge who has spent nearly a quarter century on the bench—vividly depicts a city roiled by racial tensions and a district attorney’s office cravenly eager to kowtow to its Jewish campaign donors. The novel does double duty as history, skillfully recounting New York’s race riots and their lasting effects as well as some of the city’s most incendiary scandals. The writing is crisp if less than literary, but the story—closely based on the life of lawyer Ken Thompson, the first black district attorney of Brooklyn—is as gripping as any fictional crime tale.
A relentlessly paced legal drama that ably chronicles a city’s past racial tensions.