“A lawyer like me is forced to work in the shadows. My opponents are protected by badges, uniforms, and all the myriad trappings of government power. They are sworn and duty-bound to uphold the law, but since they cheat like hell it forces me to cheat even more.”
These three sentences, spoken by the title character himself, are the best description of Sebastian Rudd, our hero. Mr. Rudd manages to alienate the police, most judges, people in organized crime, his ex-wife, and many in the public who do not like the cases he takes and are not as committed to the idea that everyone deserves a zealous defense.
In Sebastian Rudd, I believe John Grisham has created a character that is the beginning of a series of novels, much like Michael Connelly’s Lincoln Lawyer did. In fact, Sebastian Rudd is also a mobile lawyer, although instead of a Lincoln, Rudd rides around in a modified van with an office set up inside. Unlike Connelly’s Lincoln Lawyer, Rudd chose a mobile office due to the fact that his brick and mortar office was firebombed. Nobody has been arrested for that crime and, although he is not sure which of the many groups and people he has offended did that, Rudd is fairly convinced that it was the police.
This novel is divided into six parts. The first two parts are self-contained stories, one being about a defendant in a capital murder case in a small town, in which the prosecution witnesses are lying and the prosecutors and judge know it. Rudd uses, some would say questionable and others would say illegal, tactics in an attempt to prove that someone else is guilty.
The second part is about someone already convicted of a capital crime and deals with very interesting events leading up to the convict’s scheduled execution.
The third through the sixth parts are really the thrust of the novel. The third part deals with all the Homeland Security armed battle equipment that many police departments have acquired, and the questionable use that some have put that equipment to, including innocent victims of that use. It is during this part that Grisham touches on restrictions on debate since 9/11.
“Sadly, dissent nowadays is considered unpatriotic, and in our post-9/11 atmosphere any criticism of those in uniform, any uniform, is stifled. Being labeled soft on crime or soft on terror is a politician’s curse.”
It is also during part three that Grisham touches on the laws that protect police when using the battle equipment by reporting a question, and Rudd’s answer, from one of Rudd’s clients:
“. . .’But how can a cop kick in my door and shoot me with immunity, but if I return fire I’m a criminal looking at twenty years?’ The simple answer is because they are cops. The complicated answer is that our lawmakers often pass laws that are not fair.”
One paragraph later, Grisham, through his character Rudd, offers an opinion:
“The road to justice is filled with barriers and land mines, most of them created by men and women who claim to be seeking justice.”
Part four begins with a nod to James Lee Burke and Michael Connelly as authors the main character likes to read during his rare down times. This part deals with a kidnapping of an assistant police chief’s daughter. The main police suspect stops interrogation to ask for his attorney claiming it is our Sebastian Rudd. Rudd has never heard of him and, during a series of events, first agrees and then does not agree to represent him. In dealings with this suspect, the main issue is legal ethics - when can, and should, an attorney reveal information about someone who, at one time, thought he was Rudd’s client.
In part five we have drama involving Rudd’s family and the police. Again, this part continues to bring up the legal ethics touched on in part four.
Part six deals with a client who is obviously guilty and won’t listen to Rudd’s advice, even though the two have a prior profitable business relationship.
Throughout the novel, we see many of Rudd’s quirks, such as his affection for mixed martial arts cage fighting, along with betting on same, and investing in fighters.
Published in October of 2015, this novel is extremely readable and enjoyable. It is written in the first person as if it were conversational. There are many times when what is going to happen is not obvious, something I appreciate in a novel. I highly recommend this book, especially to lawyers, and I look forward to reading more novels about the quirky, interesting, Sebastian Rudd.