Defense of An Other is gripping book ripped from today’s headlines. Sort of.
Matt is an up and coming young attorney practicing in post-Katrina New Orleans for a prestigious law firm. While his career is on the fast track, his personal life is not. He has just ended a long-term relationship with his girlfriend and is exploring his attraction to men – something he has felt since he was a young boy. He has not, of course, come out to anyone, not even to himself. After a tough day at work, he decides to go to a gay club in the French Quarter where he meets Joey. The two don’t necessarily hook up but they do spend a nice, fun night at the club together. When they step out back to take a leak – the men’s room being stuffed full – they are attacked by three thugs looking to beat up some “faggots.” One of them ends up dead and Matt is arrested for the murder – first degree murder, no less. It is, after all, the south in the early 2000s – not that much has changed since then – and it is the word of the “bubbas” against “gay boy” Matt. You can see where this story is going, right?
The author is a successful attorney herself, very intelligent, and it shows throughout the book. The legal aspect of the pre-trial and courtroom drama is spot-on and captivating. I love legal thrillers and, from that aspect, Defense of An Other, is terrific and well written. I also spent half of my life in Arkansas, a stone’s throw from New Orleans, and nearly every summer of my adult life we traveled down to NOLA. The description of New Orleans, the French Quarter, the people there is vivid and real. I could almost smell the stench of the garbage and vomit of Bourbon Street and remember how amazing the Café du Monde looked and smelled at dawn. However, when it came to the actual characters of the book, I thought Mead drew up short. Matt and his mother never were quite angry enough to be believable. If it was me or my son, I would have been livid. Everyone stayed so calm, cool, collected. I have been arrested on false charges – that’s a story for another post – and my son has been arrested for protesting. I know first hand how these characters should have reacted and calm and cool were not in our wheelhouse on those occasions. You also had a mother who, in a round-about manner, just found out that her son may or may not be gay and she just shoved that discussion aside and talked about going back to work instead. Totally bizarre. From a legal stand point, the book is brilliant. From a personal perspective it was lacking and that missing element made all the difference in the world for me. The ending, too, was abrupt and unfulfilling. I’m unclear if it was meant to be a cliffhanger or if we were meant to extrapolate our own interpretation of what would come next but, either way, it simply didn’t work. Defense of An Other is being billed as a legal thriller and LGBTQ. It is legal fiction that features a young man who was in a gay bar and is tried as a gay man. I’ve read a lot of other books featuring LGBTQ characters that were not labeled as such for the simple premise that they are, in fact, human beings just like the rest of us. I’m not sure I appreciated the distinction for this particular work. While his sexual orientation is the reason for the beating and storyline in this particular instance, Matt could just as well have been African American or a prostitute or Asian American or a liberal or Muslim or, or, or An Other that Southern Bubbas find offensive. “They” are the issue, the point – if you will – not his sexual orientation. Three stars, middle of the road, because of the great legalese versus the poor character development.
I was given this book to review by #Netgalley and #ClinkStreetPublishing.