(35. - 1060.) An Equal Justice by Chad Zunker - David Adams grew up poor in Wink, Texas. With determination, a quick mind and the ability to get by on 4 hours of sleep per night he graduated in the top 10 of his Stanford Law class. On a fine fall Saturday evening he arrives in Austin where he is a new associate in the “palatial law offices” of Hunter & Kellerman (H & K). Adams is ready and eager to make good use of his $3,000 Italian made office chair. No one will ever out-work him.
Frank Hodges has just flown into Austin the same evening. Pushed into retirement after 40 years in the CIA and bored by fishing he opened a specialized private security business - “Special ops for the private sector” - in which he handles troubling matters for the wealthy. His new clients are being blackmailed and want him to find six men who served together in the American Navy in the 1970’s.
Adams is at the office at 5:30 Monday morning after his weekend arrival already assigned a summary judgment application. He starts billing in “six-minute increments” at $475 per hour.
He is shocked to learn the drunk associate, Nick Carlson, he took home on Saturday night after a lavish welcome party killed himself that night. He wonders how the deceased, barely able to walk to his door had typed out a suicide note. All he can think about are Carlson’s comments about the firm:
You should leave. Now. Before it’s too late for you, too.
I instantly thought of John Grisham’s book, The Firm, and wondered who would portray Adams in the movie of An Equal Justice. Even with all the skills of Hollywood, Tom Cruise, at 58 is too old to play another new lawyer in his mid 20’s in a dark big law firm though I expect he would consider himself suitable.
By chance Adams meets Benny (Benjamin Dugan), a homeless man who saves him from a knife wielding mugger in a downtown alley. Benny, a senior citizen who is a Navy veteran, is an elder in the Camp, a utopian utilitarian outdoor camp of homeless men, who live on the fringe of Austin. No drugs or alcohol are allowed. Devoutly Christian they have an outdoor chapel, “four long wooden benches had been placed that all faced a hand-built five-foot wooden cross”, where they worship 3 times a week.
As he builds his relationship with the homeless community I appreciated that Zunker saw them as positive people. Too often they are shown as barely one dimensional. At the same time it felt overdone. There was little depiction of the multiple problems faced by the homeless, especially mental illness.
Adams investigation is logical but the book slipped into the surreal for me when Adams, but six weeks into his legal career as a corporate civil litigator takes on the defence of one of his homeless friends, Larue, who is charged with murder. The decision certainly is dramatic.
The ending was suitably thriller though there was little legal thinking involved.
It is not a subtle book. In Marty Lyons, the powerful evil leader of the firm, Zunker created a man so prone to excess especially with alcohol as to create doubt how he could be a great litigator and manipulative villain. Grisham took a more convincing approach with Avery Tolar in The Firm. Tolar was a coldly calculating man. He had to be surreptitiously drugged to gain access to his papers.
Adams’ profession of lawyer has little role. He could have been a young executive in many types of business. The pages do fly by and it is the first thriller I have read in a long time that was completed in 209 pages. The comparatively brief book does limit character and plot development for a conspiracy. In building the conspiracy or at least a coverup I would have preferred more about the villains and their plans.
The Author’s Note at the ending on the inspiration for the book was fascinating. I am not sure I will read the next in the series. I would have to be convinced it was actually about lawyers and the practice of law. (Sept. 14/20)