Part melodrama, part legal walk-through, this slender novel revolves around a wayward teenager trapped in the serpentine court system after an arrest.
After fictionally reconstructing the historic crucifixion of Jesus, veteran Philadelphia lawyer and author Malmed’s (Jesus Unbound, 2015) second novel is a legal drama featuring an attorney resembling himself. David Magen, a semiretired Pennsylvania commercial corporate litigator, is working at home when his Latina housekeeper reveals some disturbing details about her 16-year-old niece, Carmen Jacinto. Attractive yet “street smart and tough,” Carmen finds herself in jail after being arrested on prostitution and drug possession charges during a bar raid. Once Magen decides to mitigate her case pro bono, things become increasingly sinister and complex. After visiting shady Tito’s barroom for answers, receiving an anonymous cash delivery, and then uncovering that the juvenile court judge was actually a regular john of Carmen’s in her upstairs room at Tito’s, Magen’s seasoned intelligence begins working from the assumption that the young girl is just a “pawn in some larger game.” As he compassionately and guardedly guides his client through the criminal justice system, Magen assails the guilty judge with some powerful incriminatory evidence, which sets a nasty set of events in motion, including a blackmail scheme, a drive-by shooting, and a physical attack—all spooking Carmen into hiding in fear for her life. Magen sleuths the case like a pro even amid a menagerie of corrupt officials, drug dealers, and some tall tales that threaten to derail the trustworthy attorney. Able to be read in just a few sittings, this slim, breezy volume showcases Malmed’s solid and unfettered writing. His potent tale is cleanly narrated with the assurance of a seasoned legal eagle. The author’s history as a civil law professional certainly lends the prose and the story a realistic, polished edge, and he even embeds tidbits of sage advice on investing and federal court proceedings throughout the novel. Though the story’s wooden, textbook conclusion feels rushed and uninspired, Malmed impressively manages to create a tangled and entertaining criminal case in a minimum number of pages.
An appealing, slyly effective cautionary jaunt through the criminal justice system that smartly defuses an unnerving and potentially daunting process.