A legal novel of corrupted ideals in past and present Detroit.
“Nicholas Winterstein returned many years later to the house where he had been born and raised, and he committed three murders there.” So begins this story of race, anger, and the law that plays out over many years in the tragedy-plagued city of Detroit. In the present, Winterstein is an accomplished, if amoral, defense attorney who sees the law as a means to profit. There’s a reason for his current lack of legal partners: “Nick approached a case one way, and the partners approached it from the opposite end. The impact became economic. He now worked alone.” His ruthless proficiency brings him to the attention of former judge Goodwin Marshall, an aging civil rights leader who finds himself accused of insider trading. The case involves a number of other ghosts from the civil rights movement, which “had become an enticement for corruption, an industry unto itself, replete with greed at the sacrifice of the innocent.” Winterstein’s present is intercut with scenes from his past, growing up poor in Detroit with his tempestuous father, his fearful mother, and his predatory grandfather. Familial bonds, old and new, intertwine to bring Winterstein to the murders with which the novel opens. Nicholas writes with sharp, cold prose that mimics his protagonist’s cynical worldview. The novel is populated with flawed men and women, though, under the circumstances, nobler intentions seem difficult. Staccato chapters leap forward and backward in time, drawing the reader ever deeper into the repressed, generational pain that created Winterstein and continues to shape his actions. The book flirts with political critique—one central character is a thinly veiled stand-in for Jesse Jackson—in ways that sometimes feel clumsy, but for pure storytelling, the novel is quite satisfying. Its structure and voice are fresh, and Nicholas admirably hides its trajectory. This book may be the opposite of heartwarming, but it attaches itself to the reader’s psyche all the same.
A harsh yet alluring novel of compounding tragedy.