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Book Review: Southern Justice
By Twyla Sketchley
Book Reviews columns.
By Mary KaneT&M Publishing (2012)
After 27 years as a trial attorney, author Mary Kane knows how to capture an audience’s attention and imagination. In her first book, Southern Justice, Kane weaves the realities of being a court-appointed attorney in a small town in the panhandle of North Florida with the intrigue and drama of a high stakes murder trial — while asking the moral and ethical questions surrounding representing a minor charged as an adult in the brutal murder of a beloved citizen.
The court appoints attorney Kat James, a young Yankee, to represent Eddie Ray, a young black man accused of killing the wife of a local state trooper in a robbery gone wrong. Unlike other “realistic” crime novels, this story will not bring the reader trite jailhouse confessions leading to the “ah-hah” moment of innocence or the witty sound bite-sized conversations with impeccably dressed opposing counsel. Kat’s supporting characters include a partner with an inappropriate approach to young women that has already endangered the firm once, a heavy caseload, and a dedicated southern woman as an assistant.
Against this backdrop Eddie Ray is tried for the murder of an admired businesswoman and wife of a state trooper. Eddie Ray’s story includes societal abandonment and the racial tension still present in small southern towns in 2011. Kat, using an overworked staff, charm and intelligence, fights sexism, racism, poverty, and stereotypes in her effort to save Eddie Ray. While she merely has to establish a reasonable doubt to save him, it appears out of reach. Kat’s investment in Eddie Ray is greater than that of his relatives save for his Aunt Belle Rivers, who took him in when “other relatives could no longer afford another mouth to feed, another back to clothe.”
Through Kat’s investment in Eddie Ray’s life and faith in the legal system, the reader experiences the life of a small town criminal defense attorney with all its flaws exposed. Readers ride along with Kat to the small southern town over canopy roads to visit a scared child client. They are privy to Kat’s strategy and planning and root for her success, even in the face of overwhelming odds. Readers question the motivation of witnesses with Kat, and they bristle against Eddie Ray’s predicament. Kat’s surprises and frustrations are the reader’s.
Mary Kane, who retired from the practice of law in 2010, was the first woman in the country to become a life member of NACDL. Her novel is well written, true to the practice of law, and well worth the read. She shows that the practice of law is all about telling a client’s story.