Thu. Apr 9th, 2020

Read 4 Fun

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Fantastic Story Structure

5 min read

Maybe because of the relationship between crime, mystery, and legal thrillers, I am attracted to titles like We, The Jury by Robert Rotstein. Years ago, I was spoiled as far as legal thrillers by John Grisham. His appeal has not faded with his recent works such as the The Whistler. Rotstein does not compare to Grisham; he is different in many ways and that is what makes this novel an exceptional one. It is pleasing in its organization. It is clever in the observations offered on the travails of everyday life, some, but not all, in a legal sphere. It is entertaining in its examination of spousal abuse in which the husband is the abused … or maybe not. That is why we are in the courtroom. Abused or not, should there be incidents in which murder is justified? Self-defense? Perhaps. That is why readers are invited to examine the court proceedings presented here.

Readers should look at the Table of Contents (TOC) to get an idea of the very cool organization of this novel. I won’t even attempt to count the number of different points of view. Just to name a few: there is the Judge, a Court Shorthand Recorder (CSR), a Bailiff, eight Jurors, a Tabloid Reporter/Blogger, a Defendant with an ambitious Defense Attorney, a Plaintiff (the State) represented by a second-tier Prosecutor, and any number of witnesses the author decides to describe in detail. This type of organization appeals to my German sense of order, admittedly a stereotype but I like to live up to it.

The novel begins with a summation by the Courtroom Clerk in a memorandum to the Judge. The summation has thirteen bullet points for the Judge to consider. Bullet point thirteen is the hook that should draw any reader in. The Clerk apologized for the point to the Judge. The next chapter begins with the Judge and her background and a recent tragedy in her personal life which caused an important mistake she will make. In Chapter One, aside from the mistake, the Judge, in preparing instructions for the jury recalls advice from her trial lawyer husband about giving jury instructions. “When you instruct a jury, don’t read to them; speak to them. It’s human interaction, not dry, legalistic recitation, that fosters justice.” (Kindle location 40). After reading a few more chapters, this quote came back to me paraphrased for a different audience: {Don’t tell them, show them, it’s writer-reader interaction that creates good stories}. And that is what Rotstein has done very well.

There are many principal characters in this novel and all tell their stories in the first person. Because this is a page-turner in many places, readers may have to go back to the chapter titles to be sure of whose point of view is being expressed. This was true for me … several times. In addition to the judge and principal court officers, there are eight jurors. Most of the story will center on the jurors and their widely different backgrounds. There is a clergyman who may have been in disgrace, an architect who feels unappreciated and undervalued, a student who has returned to school late in life, a retired 78-year-old teacher and grandmother, an insurance secretary (file clerk) who glories in her role as jury foreperson, a failed actor who is currently a messenger but will do anything until the next acting opportunity, a garrulous housewife who will not shut up and a jury consultant. I have no idea why that last one could serve as a juror. Much of the action takes place in the jury room as personalities clash and prejudices that are due to different age and education backgrounds contribute to discord rather than agreement in attempting to reach a verdict.

External to the jury are the court officers. To put it mildly, the judge seems to be having a memory problem. The Bailiff is a sheriff’s deputy who has been exiled to courtroom duty because no one wants to work with him in regular police work

The Court Clerk is protective of the judge and her reputation but doesn’t know how much longer he can do it. The judge’s married boss, a senior judge, wants to go out with her. And there are other conflicts which include a blogger.

I am in awe of Rotstein’s ability to so skillfully juggle all these characters. And then there is the story. David Sullinger killed his wife Amanda Sullinger. No doubt. But David said it was self- defense; David claimed he was a long-term sufferer of spousal abuse and things had finally escalated to the point where he had no choice but to kill during one of their violent arguments. One problem with this is that Lacey, their daughter will testify that Dad was never violent, it was Mommy Amanda who was at fault. Son Dillon tells a completely opposite story; Dad was the abuser. When Amanda and David were first married; she was twenty-eight, he was nineteen. She had been his high school history teacher. She remained the principal source of income for the family. David couldn’t find his career or employment niche.

I highly recommend this legal thriller of 304 pages and gave it five Amazon stars. It sells on Amazon for USD 0.99. I read it in one session in about three hours. Some sections of the novel are in the form of court documents and these sections read very fast; I am not a speed reader. This is almost like reading a collection of short stories where each character would have one story. Rotstein weaves unifying threads very skillfully to make this a tightly organized thriller.

And the entire story is told without sex and violence (except for the murder). Who would’a thought.


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