Crime of Privilege by Walter Walker is a legal thriller pitting a schlub against the rich and powerful (available June 18, 2013).
A murder on Cape Cod. A rape in Palm Beach. All they have in common is the presence of one of America’s most beloved and influential families. But nobody is asking questions. Not the police. Not the prosecutors. And certainly not George Becket, a young lawyer toiling away in the basement of the Cape & Islands district attorney’s office. George has always lived at the edge of power. He wasn’t born to privilege, but he understands how it works and has benefitted from it in ways he doesn’t like to admit. Now, an investigation brings him deep inside the world of the truly wealthy—and shows him what a perilous place it is.
I’m a sucker for journeys of redemption, for flawed characters whose weaknesses bring them to life, for holes dug deep enough that the character has to dig even deeper to pull himself out. Walker’s tale delivers all of this in spades. When George Becket witnesses a young woman being violated at a party in Palm Beach, he hesitates. He questions what he’s really seeing. He rationalizes and justifies. Finally, he steps in to stop it. Subsequently, for playing coy with investigators, George gets rewarded by the powerful Gregory family. He also gains an enemy in the victim’s wealthy father whose henchman (who gets some of the best lines) is soon dispatched to encourage George to find a moral compass. After the young woman commits suicide and George still refuses to change his story, daddy’s henchman predicts an unfortunate future:
“Mr. Powell has lost his only daughter. Mr. Powell is one pissed-off, vengeful, resourceful sonofabitch who can buy things that aren’t even for sale. And Mr. Powell is going to burn your life down around you, my fatuous little friend.”
He put his hands behind his waist and rocked forward onto the balls of his feet as if he were very much going to enjoy the fire. “I can guarantee you that things are going to start happening now that never would have happened before. And they are going to keep happening in every aspect of your life until you get to the point that if you so much as buy a losing lottery ticket you’re going to think Mr. Powell rigged the game against you.”
How do you like that? Plenty of things do indeed happen to George—things that made me suspicious of everyone who crosses his path. I have to admit, since George doesn’t start out as a particularly likeable guy, watching some of them mess with his head is a real treat. Thing is, George doesn’t much like himself, either:
The silence grew oppressive again. I wanted one of us to say something reassuring to the other. It didn’t happen. I wondered if I could just get up, tell McFetridge it was good seeing him, slap hands, ask what the rafting was going to be like tomorrow.
“Look,” he said after about three very long minutes had passed, “I think I’m gonna stay here a little longer. Why don’t you go back now, catch your dinner, let those guys clean up.”
The message was clear: Fraternity brothers or not, my company was no longer desired.
At this point, I didn’t even desire it myself.
Later, it’s even more evident during a bike race, when George thinks back to the investigation in Palm Beach:
He didn’t ask, though, did he? Fucking Ralph Mars. Fucking state attorney. What’s he now? Congressman Mars. And I was just a kid. A college kid. Who kept his mouth shut.
I didn’t lie.
Peter lied. And probably Jamie.
I just kept my mouth shut. Answered what I was asked. No, the Senator wasn’t there.
He stuck his head into the library, that was all. Saw we were there. Peter, Jamie, Kendrick, and me.
No, he didn’t come in.
No, he didn’t say anything.
Drunk? I don’t know.
I was drunk. I know that.
We all were.
Peter, Jamie, Kendrick, and me.
I told him what I was doing.
Looking at the Homer. The Winslow Homer. The boat with the big fish. Covered with dust. Fucking Winslow Homer. Fucking big fish.
Kendrick. On the couch.
Reclined. Did I say reclined?
Peter. Just standing there. Next to the couch. When the Senator looked in.
I didn’t lie.
I answered what I was asked.
Fuck you, George. You fucking wimp.
My sentiment exactly. There’s something about watching people behave badly: it’s difficult to look away. But compared to the Gregory clan and the other people in their pocket, George eventually comes across as sympathetic. It’s only because he struggled with his failings that I no longer felt the urge to slug him. I was intrigued. I found myself rooting for his burgeoning integrity and wanted to see where his choices would take him. Would he redeem himself? Would he atone for his sins?
He certainly tries to do the right thing. And he succeeds, sort of. In the end, it’s as if George has gone through purgatory and will likely stay there as a late repentant. Fine by me. It’s a credit to Walker, whose take on (in)justice invokes sly humor and clever twists to make George’s journey such a page-turner.
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Elizabeth Connelly loves to get lost in mysteries and is currently trying to write her way through a first novel. The author of nine books has written and edited a slew of other stuff, mostly about artisans and travel. Find her at http://erussellconnelly.com and on Twitter, where she’s only just begun to tweet.