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.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

An Equal Justice by Chad Zunker

(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)


  1. Hmmm...I do like a good legal novel, Bill. But it sounds as though this one was more about the intrigue and the thriller aspects than it was about the case or the characters. And I do like credibility in a novel. The one point you make that I was glad to see was the way the book portrays the homeless. For one thing, I agree with you on that score. For another, it was quite timely as my current work in progress features a homeless character. As you say, the homeless are real people with real personalities. They should be portrayed that way.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I get a little depressed when there are no cases and the lawyer does not get to show any legal skills.

      Best wishes with your writing. All of us have personalties.

  2. The homeless are not always portrayed well in the media here. Often, the myriad problems they face are ignored. A lot of people in my city are homeless because of the high rents and evictions, and as a Legal Aid lawyer pointed out in the NY Times a year ago, landlords have lawyers and few tenants do. And there is the issue of low wages, and then unemployment. That's on top of mental illness. I watched a story on CNN about evictions in Houston and it was heartbreaking: a worker who was laid off during the pandemic and just got a new job. He was held responsible for several months' rent and had a check for $363, which did not help him. And there was an elderly woman being evicted. She cried. Their possession were dumped on the street as garbage.
    I have to say that the way in which a society treats the homeless tells a lot. And this is where aid, legal, faith-based groups can and do help out.
    I have broken all of my oaths not to spend more on books, but with the pandemic, that vow has gone out the window. Just ordered: Twisted, Steve Cavanagh's new Eddie Flynn legal mystery/thriller. I saw Cavanagh at Poisoned Pen's Facebook and laughed so hard. He is hilarious, that dry Irish wit. And he's self-deprecating.

    1. Kathy D.: As you know I represent individuals. On rental matters we are not often involved because of the cost of legal representation whether for landlord or tenant. In Melfort there are no large apartment complexes. Both landlords and tenants are likely to be of limited to modest means. I have represented both landlords and tenants. Sometimes the right lies with one side and sometimes with the other. It is hard when someone is trying but not paying. Most landlords I have dealt with need the rental money to pay a mortgage or they will lose the property.

  3. Two families with children moved out of my building at the start of the pandemic when shutdown happened. The parents lost incomes and couldn't pay the rent they were charged. They pleaded with the landlord to lower their rent, and he wouldn't. So they left. In New York, most landlords are big ones who charge exorbitant rents, and they have wealthy corporate lawyers. Not like where you work.

    I watched a documentary on CNN about Houston evictions and wept as I saw an elderly woman and a migrant family being evicted. The children's toys and clothes were thrown in the street as "garbage." I think anyone with human feelings would be upset by this situation.

    And now there are millions unemployed and more layoffs occurring and predicted.

    1. Kathy D.: I do not have an answer for you. There are many struggles with life in Canada but America's struggles look greater from the North.

  4. At least Canada has universal, free health care. No so here, and the Republicans want to overturn the Affordable Care Act. That would leave 20 million more uninsured. Does Canada have benefits for people rendered unemployed by the pandemic? Here, there is a big fight over another aid package, which people sorely need. I think Canada is better on these benefits. I know that several European countries have been more generous with benefits.

    1. Kathy D.: There are benefits. We are coming to a reckoning because of a huge covid deficit. Uncertainty is building for 2021.