The Jailhouse Lawyer, by James Patterson and Nancy Grace

Eight stars

James Patterson and Nancy Grace collaborate again on a pair of legal thrillers that are sure to keep the reader on their toes throughout. The stories stir up a great deal of emotion and intrigue in equal measure as they explore the legal world from new perspectives. The first story has a small town lawyer accept the job of county public defender, only to realise that the sitting judge has an agenda of his own. Many citizens are under his thumb and no one has the wherewithal to stand up to the man in the gavel. No one except Martha Foster. The second story turns the attention to Leah Randall, who leaves her Chicago firm to return home to Arkansas. While her primary goal is to assist her sick father, Leah is soon pulled into the middle of a criminal case with a suspect who has everything to lose. Exploring many facets of the law, Leah will have to work hard to ensure a young woman is not railroaded in a state where the jury is public opinion! A wonderful set of stories by Patterson and Grace that solidifies the power of their collaborative efforts.

The Jailhouse Lawyer

After leaving her job and looking for something more fulfilling, Martha Foster brings her son to Erva, Alabama. They are ready to take on the world and set up some roots, especially after Martha is offered the position of Public Defender for the county. While Martha tries to get her bearings, she learns that Judge Pickens is not only revered, but also might be feared around town. Still, Martha has a job to do and is prepared to accomplish it.

As she begins her work, Martha soon realises that Judge Pickens has a reputation for legal firmness around the county, holding many to a higher standard. This standard includes locking them away for small offences and using a ‘chair’ to ensure people follow the law, his law. While Martha can respect the bench, she cannot stomach anything that Judge Pickens has been doing. Now, she’s forced to stand her ground, which may mean upsetting the scales of justice and landing her in some hot water.

With little holding her back, Martha takes on Judge Pickens, hoping that she will be the one person who can stare him down. Pickens is ready for this and tosses everything he an in her direction, hoping to break her. That being said, Martha Foster is not one to bend to the will of others without a fight. Will this fight be more than Martha and her sick son, Andy, can withstand?

Power of Attorney

While Leah Randall has had a great deal of success defending insurance companies, she cannot stomach the slimy nature of the work and quits. This is fuelled not only by her conscience, but an odd message from her mother that she is needed back home in Arkansas. Leah learns that her father, a prominent attorney in the small town of Bassville, is sick and headed downhill fast.

When Leah returns to her hometown, it is as if nothing has changed. She is welcomed home with open arms, but eyebrows raised, as she gets reacquainted with everyone she left behind. While her focus is to help her father, Leah is soon pulled in to assist on a tricky criminal case. Amber Lynn Travis, a missing young woman, has recently resurfaced. First thought to be the only survivor in a house fire that was likely arson, Amber is soon at the centre of the investigation, the likely murderer of her cousin and his wife. While Leah is shocked to hear this, she is even more baffled at the simple nature that Amber portrays, which is substantiated by the fact that she has only a second-grade education.

With the court ruling that Amber must stand trial for the murders, Leah prepares a defence as best she can, stymied by the limited resources at her disposal. Amber wants the proceeds of her cousin’s will, which she vocalists repeatedly, though it is a contract that Leah discovers which proves more disturbing, especially since the elder Randall oversaw its creation.

While Leah can rely on no one else and Amber looks even guiltier the more evidence is presented, she will stop at nothing to ensure her client has the best possible defence. What Leah cannot know is just how much Amber knew or realised throughout her servitude at the hands of a cruel cousin for a number of years. As always, justice might be blind, but the courtroom has a way of twisting the truth.

Nancy Grace brings a strong legal background to these stories, which are vastly different, yet both well balanced. She complements the Patterson style of delivery and helps develop a great legal thriller (two, actually), for the reader to enjoy. Pulling on lesser discussed tactics, Patterson and Grace deliver something the reader can easily enjoy and use to whet their appetite for more legal thrillers. With a strong narrative in both pieces, Patterson and Grace capture the legal themes well and keep the reader hooked until they discover the crux of the story’s argument.

These two stories explore completely different legal elements, but use a strong female protagonist to do so. Both Martha and Leah have completely different backstories, though it is the development that each presents throughout the process that is sure to impress the reader. While these are likely one-off stories, Patterson and Grace have done enough to create some strong roots and have me wanting to know more about both women, whose gritty determination will not allow the pressures of the courtroom leave them weak in the knees. Wonderful characters in both pieces had me cringing and cheering at various points.

While James Patterson is not known for his legal thrillers, he has teamed up with some great individuals over his career to pen some formidable pieces. Working with Nancy Grace a second time here has proven to be a masterful choice on his part, as both these stories read as some of the better thrillers I have read in a long while. Paced well, with a narrative that pushes forward easily, the stories offer much for the curious reader. Using the underdog technique, both stories tap into the darker side of the law and how the ‘little guy/girl’ can sometimes be left to suffer because they are a single voice. Fans of courtroom thrillers will likely enjoy these, as there is a definitely uniqueness to them, which I usually find in some other authors, whose fame matches Patterson’s. Pleasantly surprised, I will surely keep my eyes peeled for more by this collaborative duo!

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Grace, for a great set of stories. Please do consider working together again, as you have a knack for great storytelling.