In the Shadow of the Law by Kermit Roosevelt

#51 in my book challenge for the year, In the Shadow of the Law is a legal thriller. It is sure to be compared to Grisham, which is unfortunate, because In the Shadow of the Law is a solidly written, non-formulaic thriller.

Roosevelt is a professor of law and former Supreme Court clerk. His prose is sometimes more exuberant than necessary, but perhaps fiction provides a welcome departure from legal-ese. There is plenty of the latter in this book. One of the characters, Mark, is a clueless first-year student, who regularly asks other characters what is going on. His ignorance means others explain legal facts to him and thus to the reader. While this is useful to the plot and informative in general, sometimes the explanations are long and result in unbelievable dialogue.

The best developed character is Walker, the former Supreme Court clerk who eventually looks to escape the crush of the firm by becoming a law professor. While some of the other characters were a little too easily categorized, each was given a good amount of complex and believable backstory. There was Mark, the clueless one, Katja, the hardworking one, Peter the soulless head of the firm, and Ryan, the boorish one who thinks he’s smarter than he is. Ryan is so obnoxious that I found the chapters on him difficult to read. I became excited when it looked as if Ryan might die a quick and nasty death. Instead, he goes on to an interesting fate that I did not foresee.

At one point, I thought I had foreseen a key plot point to the ending, but it it turned out to be merely one of several factors. The book centers on two cases, a chemical fire and a death-row appeal. Both the cases in the plot were tied up well and believably. The case endings and the fates of the characters were pleasant surprises, not formulaic or predictable. This was a smart, promising legal thriller.

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