We are in Lynwood, Louisiana, in February 1994. Frank Daniels, the Klan’s new Grand Dragon, wants action. In fact, he doesn’t want just action. No, he wants an insurrection. A violent uprising, a racial reckoning, in Lynwood.
Daniels faces several problem. One of those problems is that his Klavern lacks that certain enthusiasm needed to set crosses on fire on lawns. Another problem is that Daniels needs the Klan’s Grand Titan, Billy Joe Bullock, to see him as leadership-material for the future.
Five crosses are set on fire that night for five groups of victims: a house of a black woman simply chosen because it had no outside lights on, the office of the NAACP, a synagogue, an Islamic center, and the court house. And then the Klavern waited for the uprising of the all-cleansing racial war.
Adrien Rush, civil rights prosecutor stationed in the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., travels to Louisiana to team up with Local FBI special agent Lee Mercer. Mercer, a seasoned investigator, wants to call in the ATF to see what their forensic technicians could add to the investigation. He is shot down. With special agent Matt McClure his investigation into Billy Joe Bullock, results in a secret meeting.
The book is legal fiction but don’t let that either scare you or fool you. It isn’t written in legalese and what aspects of the law apply are written in plain English. And it isn’t completely fiction either as all the questions that Mercer and Rush have to answer, play a role in our everyday lives.
The book came out in the beginning of March 2020 so I do not think it is appropriate to give away the plot. Instead, let me guide you towards the plot by asking you this: do you always tell the truth? Or, do you feel that sometimes it is alright to only tell part of the truth?
Would you be able to take up the defense of a Ku Klux Klan member if you knew that this person wasn’t just a member but actually participated in a hate crime? And if you were the prosecutor, would there be anything that anyone could tell you to stop you from prosecuting this man? What if you discover then that you made a mistake? Would your hatred for the group or this single man override your own ethics?
In short, when you work the hardest cases do you follow the letter of the law knowing that what is legal isn’t always justice? Could you accept unethical behavior of yourself or from a colleague if you knew that the outcome of the case would not change? But what if it does change the outcome?
At the crux of the story is that one piece of evidence on which the entire case is built. If that piece of evidence is taken away, there is no case. We have a doctrine that is called the “fruit of the poisonous tree.” It stops the prosecution from using any piece of evidence in a criminal case that was illegally obtained. Even if there is an essence of truth in that piece of evidence, if it was not acquired according to the rules and procedures as set forth in our criminal code, it cannot be used.
So, now what do you do? This is the question that forces Mercer and Rush to review the situation again and make a decision that could not just unleash retaliation in the community, it could get them killed.
McAuliffe’s writing style
There are no spectacular grand scene descriptions in this book. McAuliffe writes in a modest manner but while you settle in for the story to unfold, he has woven a web that slowly pulls you in. And there is no escape because the characters of Mercer and Rush grow on you.
McAuliffe does not write with the many adjectives that some authors use to instill in their readers how knowledgeable or skilled their characters are. McAuliffe’s writing style lets you discover for yourself how intelligent and skilled these characters are and he is not afraid to show their faults, their doubts, and their fears.
It is refreshing to read about men who are not typecast as heros from the beginning but who, through painful exploration of their conscience and fears, do the right thing in an unselfish manner that will leave you thinking about this book for a long time after you put it down.
The pace is good, the chapters are well proportioned, the font is eye-friendly, and the characters are believable. When the plot unfolds the pace picks up but pay attention: as the pace picks up one of our main characters seems frozen. It is exactly this display of humanity and grief that makes this book great. Highly recommended reading.
About the author
Michael McAuliffe was a practicing lawyer for thirty years. He served as federal prosecutor in the capacity of both supervisory assistant US attorney in the Southern District of Florida and as trial attorney in the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division in the Department of Justice in Washington, DC. He served as state attorney, was a partner at a major law firm, a senior lecturing fellow at Duke University’s School of Law, and an adjunct professor at William & Mary’s School of Law.