Corruption, Southern style: Good-old-boy power brokers are challenged by an idealistic newspaper publisher in this lumbering debut.
Buck Ravenel learned how the world works at his exclusive prep school. As a squeaky-clean prefect he had reported his roomie to the headmaster for an infraction. The headmaster finessed matters, pressuring the roomie’s father for a donation. Everybody won; favors trumped rules; the titular Code had been observed. Now, in 1995, Buck is a powerful state senator in South Carolina, and his son Tripp is director of the state’s environmental agency. When a phosphate company applies for a permit to strip-mine near Georgetown, on the coast, and his agency’s in-house report is negative, Tripp has it deep-sixed. Like father, like son. There will be a sweet business deal if the permit is approved; Buck and his partners will profit. Just one problem: A young black paralegal has obtained the original report and passed it to the local paper, on condition his identity is protected. The paper runs the story. Buck sues, seeking millions in damages. It’s time for Wade McNabb, the crusading publisher, to enlist the help of Kate Stewart, an equally idealistic lawyer. Let battle commence! Unfortunately, it doesn’t. First we must plow through Wade and Kate’s back stories. Wade’s father had been a hero, standing up for black folks, losing the paper after an advertisers’ boycott, and eventually killing himself. Kate’s dad had been a successful tobacco buyer who became consumed with guilt once the lung cancer connection became clear. So the high-minded dead loom large over a couple destined for each other, though not quite yet. They spend a day on a remote beach, but he’s the perfect gentleman and she’s the perfect lady, making for a perfect snooze. The judge in the long-delayed courtroom scenes is a good old hunting buddy of Buck, so the fix is in. Will right over might prevail?
High moral tone, low narrative appeal.