About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult Continued

In my last post I started a review of Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult providing my perspective as a lawyer on the evidence as it unfolded in the book. This post carries on with that review with my comments as a lawyer in italics.

Now the parents are convinced this black woman murdered their child. They hate her. Jefferson’s public defender, Kennedy, wants to keep race out of the trial.

That is impossible. The note cannot be ignored. The baby’s parents are not merely prejudiced. They fervently believe in the superiority of the white race. The issue of race will be in every juror’s mind.

Ruth has spent a lifetime living the race consciousness of America. A prominent African American broadcaster and minister reaches out to her wanting to publicize her charges as racist.

Not a good idea. The parents of Davis had nothing to do with the actual circumstances of death. A public campaign does not help a defence in Canada. From the North I am not sure whether American jurors can be swayed by such overt public appeals.

Jefferson’s pride will not let her take financial assistance for her living expenses. She takes a job at McDonald’s.

Pride is more often a vice than a virtue when you are a criminal defendant. I have told many clients (I am a private counsel rather than legal aid) in trouble that they need to find the resources to properly defend their case and, if they lack the resources, they may need to seek out assistance from family and friends. Refusing help is a bad idea. I know if Ruth had a friend or family member in trouble she would offer assistance. It is not weakness to take help when it is needed. Her stubborn unwillingness to accept help when she is facing life in prison and is the single mother of a 17 year old son is great for literary tension but simply perverse when it risks his future as well as her own.

I thought of famed San Francisco defence lawyer Jake Ehrlich on his fees for defending murder. His fees were E-V-E-R-T-H-I-N-G the client owned for what could be more valuable than saving a client from execution. Ruth was not facing execution but she was facing life in prison.

It is on the eve of trial that expert evidence for the defence is found providing a credible defence.

Only in fiction to build drama would an expert be consulted so late in the process. In real life it would be one of the first steps of the defence. The author could have built just as much drama from such an early consultation and the State’s refusal to accept the evidence of the defence expert.
While my review above concentrates on the legal case Picoult’s focus in the book is building a powerful portrayal of the perception of race dominating American life through the examination of the charges and the trial.

For the second year in a row there is a finalist for the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction fraught with the tensions of race relations in America.

Last year it was The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson. Young black lawyer, Regina Mary Robichard, goes to Mississippi in 1946 to investigate the murder of a decorated Negro (the description of the day) war veteran. She encounters a rigidly segregated American South.

Sixty-nine years later Ruth lives a life in which there is subtle segregation. She can work in a prominent hospital. She can live in a mainly white neighbourhood. Her son can attend a mainly white school. However, she is not really a part of the life of her white colleagues nor is she really a part of the neighbourhood nor is her son really a part of the school. There is tolerance rather than equality.

Small Great Things is an exceptional book. My only disappointment is in the ending but not in the result of the trial. The finish of the book after the trial felt contrived after the scorching realism of the rest of the plot. I know I expect too much of popular fiction to have a realistic ending. 

Reading Small Great Things forces white readers to face their personal attitudes towards race. Looking at my own attitudes left me uncomfortable.


  1. Thank you, Bill, for such a thoughtful discussion of the legal aspects of this case. I see the points you're making. One thing about this novel is that it is a stark reminder that racism isn't just a matter of where people are or aren't legally allowed to go, or what they're legally allowed to do or not. It goes much deeper.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. You put it well raising "legally allowed" does not mean racism is absent.

  2. The first word that entered my head about your review was 'thoughtful' - I was glad to see Margot felt the same. What an interesting book, and your 'lawyer' comments made it sound even more compelling. I am glad you enjoyed it even though the ending disappointed slightly!

    1. Moira: Thanks for the kind words. It was an excellent book. I sometimes wish bloggers reviewing books used their professional backgrounds in writing their reviews.

  3. I am of mixed minds about reading this book. There is so much overt racism going on here since the current White House resident began his campaign. And violence, too, not only attitudes.

    Two men were killed and one seriously injured by a white supremacist in Portland, Ore., a month or two ago when they came to the aid of two teen-age girls, one wearing a hijab. He was threatening them. The three men did the moral, compassionate thing and helped the teenagers.

    So, the guy stabbed all three. One of the slain man was the father of four young children. Another was 23 and very well-liked. The third, a college student, is improving.

    What kind of people are they that they can mistreat other human beings. And even attack them?

    I don't know if hospitals should go along with the bigotry or any other institution. Someone has to stand up to it.

    1. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. When I started reading the book and read of the note I wondered if the book would actually be about the nurse, Ruth, suing the hospital. She would have had a strong case. I understand the book was partly inspired by a real life case.

  4. How can an institution post a notice upholding segregation in nursing? Here, that would violate the Civil Rights law that wiped away Jim Crow laws.

    1. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. I could not say the note was segregation. I would say it was discrimination.