A young attorney with a personal vendetta goes after a trio of pharmaceutical companies he blames for the opioid epidemic in this legal thriller.
Locals in Jake Rutledge’s hometown of Oakley, West Virginia, call the city Zombieland due to the high number of opioid addicts. After Jake loses his fraternal twin brother, Blake, to an opioid overdose, he wants justice. He plans to file a lawsuit against the three biggest pharmaceutical companies. He believes they were deceitful when claiming opioids are nonaddictive, which ultimately led to Blake’s death and those of thousands more. Jake wisely gets help from two more experienced lawyers, Paul Vogel in West Virginia and Nick “Deke” Deketomis in Florida. As their civil action progresses, Jake independently offers his legal assistance to his high school crush, Anna Fowler. The city is trying to condemn her family’s business, but the fact that her father received no notices is suspicious. Jake’s stepping in on the Fowlers’ behalf may threaten someone’s well-established shady dealings, which, along with the legal battle against “the Big Three,” stirs up even more trouble. Paul and Deke are understandably worried when Jake subsequently disappears, and a drug dealer’s assertion that the missing attorney is a user is blatant character assassination. Though this is the third appearance for Deke in Papantonio’s (Law and Vengeance, 2017, etc.) series, readers may relate more to the modest Jake. While Deke flies in a private jet, his younger counterpart declines coffee “to avoid a dry-cleaning expense.” Jake is also whip-smart and stoical; during separate conversations with a condescending lawyer and a crass sheriff’s deputy, he remains unruffled. The few scenes inside a courtroom aptly display (mostly) Deke’s legal skills as well as the story’s swiftly executed examinations, cross-examinations, and arguments. Unfortunately, there is little tension, as it’s not difficult to see whom the judges favor. They are “clearly unimpressed” by the defense attorneys, with the immensely unlikable Nathan Ailes at the head. But this does preface an ending that’s both unexpected and realistic.
An engaging courtroom tale, thanks in large part to its zealous, appealing protagonist.