Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Devil Amongst the Lawyers (Sharyn McCrumb)

The Devil Amongst the Lawyers is historical fiction based on the 1935 trial of Edith Maxwell in Wise County, Virginia. What I found so interesting about this novel is that the trial is just an afterthought. The real story lies in the journalists who come to cover it, some honestly and some not so honestly.

Erma Morton is a beautiful, young schoolteacher accused of a hideous crime...the murder of her father, Pollock. Is she guilty or innocent? To McCrumb, it hardly matters, as we do not find out until the last few pages. To the journalists covering the case, this is a goldmine trial. A young girl "pretty enough to be in the pictures", living in the "backwards part of the country in them ther hills". Whether true or not, Henry Jernigan, Rose Hanelon, Shade Baker, and especially Luther Swann, will write what their editors want to see in the newspaper. Carl Jennings, on his first major assignment and the only one to report the truth, refuses to resort to writing stereotypes. The only way he can get ahead of the others is if he uses his young cousin, Nora, who has the gift of Sight.

As I love historical fiction, I found this novel fascinating, but not as fascinating as it could have been. As we read the story from the points of view of the major characters, the novel at times can seem hurky-jerky. It is not seamless as a Picoult novel might be. However, McCrumb should be commended for writing about a trial in the Depression-era United States that is not well-known.