The Out-of-Town Lawyer
June 30, 2024

Book Review

The Out-of-Town Lawyer

reviewed by Andrew Smith


Elvis Henderson receives the call while mindlessly driving his Ford Transit van through Texas, close to the Mexican border. He’s instructed to drive to the place he least wants to go: Quartz County, Northern Alabama. Elvis has history there, and it’s not good history. He left this place twenty-eight years ago and swore he’d never go back.

But he’s a restless lawyer who has stepped away from prestigious law firms to practice ‘small law,’ defending whoever his mysterious boss instructs him to. This time, it’s a woman charged with capital murder and facing a potential death penalty.

The trial starts in just four and a half weeks, so time is very tight. But that doesn’t stop Elvis from being distracted by a billboard advertising a cabaret featuring fully nude women—there’s always time for that! Yes, Elvis is an interesting character: a man with a mysterious past, a driven professional passionate about his work, but also someone who enjoys some of the seedier aspects of life. The woman he’s been instructed to defend is Destiny Grace Harper, accused of murdering her twin babies. More accurately, her crime seems to be letting her unborn fetuses, who suffered from a rare condition called twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome (commonly referred to as TTTS), die as a result of denying them specialized laser surgery that might have saved them.

Destiny Grace had been a member of the Church of the Lord’s Rapture, run by an evangelical preacher named Jeremiah Tipple and his family. The church doesn’t allow parishioners to seek help from the medical profession. Their view is that prayers heal while doctors interfere. It’s quickly established that refusal of medical treatment on religious grounds will not be an effective defense; recent case law makes this quite clear. It’s hard to see how Elvis and the small team supporting him will be able to defend Destiny Grace. Everything seems stacked against them, including an idiosyncratic and mistake-prone judge, who seems hell-bent on supporting every wish of the prosecuting team while denying every request Elvis puts forward.

There’s a lot to take in here: a substantial cast of characters, a good deal of legal debate and argument, a plethora of Biblical quotes, and a backstory that explains why Elvis was so reluctant to return to this place. It takes a bit of concentration and patience, but past the halfway point, it really does develop into an attention-grabbing tale. Elvis is a compelling character, and he’s certainly the star attraction here. But there’s no end of colorful characters to enjoy and a compelling narrative that kept me on edge as we crept towards the story’s nail-biting climax.

The core argument here poses a really interesting conundrum, and it’s explored in an intelligent and comprehensively satisfying way. That alone should be enough to grab the interest of readers who enjoy a good legal thriller. But, augmented by the additional elements supplied here, what you have is not only a strong stand-alone story but one which, I hope, might prompt further adventures featuring Elvis and his crew. I, for one, would be happy to bump into this engaging legal practitioner at least one more time.

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