Book Review: The Local by Joey Hartstone
By John ValeriJuly 28, 2022
Joey Hartstone may be a debut novelist, but he’s certainly no novice when it comes to writing. He studied screenwriting at UCLA and later had two of his scripts directed for film by Rob Reiner: LBJ (2016) and Shock and Awe (2017). Hartstone also wrote on the first two seasons of The Good Fight and currently serves as an Executive Producer and Showrunner for Showtime’s Your Honor starring Bryan Cranston. Last month, Doubleday published his first legal thriller, The Local.
The book introduces attorney James Euchre, who lives and works in Marshall, Texas—a small town that doubles as the United States’ hotbed of patent law. A highly regarded specialist in that arena, Euchre agrees to provide local representation for outsider CEO Amir Zawar on a software patent infringement suit. Though Zawar initially strikes Euchre as antagonistic and off-putting, money talks—and the New York firm of Gordon & Greene is willing to pay handsomely for his services. But things quickly go off script after Zawar lambasts the judge in open court and is charged with contempt. When said judge, Gerald Gardner, later turns up dead, Zawar becomes the prime suspect and soon finds himself standing trial for murder.
Despite Euchre’s reservations—after all, Judge Gardner was not simply a colleague but also his mentor and father figure—he agrees to stay on as counsel, to be assisted by Gordon & Greene’s Layla Stills and independent PI (and former soccer star) Lisa Morgan. Their contributions are crucial, as Euchre is not often a practitioner of criminal law. Personal and professional stakes are high given who the victim is and popular perception(s) of the case. And while Euchre is initially suspicious of Zawar, he soon becomes convinced of his innocence—only to find that certainty wavering as their investigation into the crime progresses. With his client’s freedom hanging in the balance, and his own reputation on the line, Euchre knows that getting to the truth is a necessity, whatever it proves.
The narrative—told exclusively through Euchre’s point of view—is separated into five parts, each of which is named after a legal term; this not only helps to legitimize the author’s conveyance of the law (as he is not an attorney) but serves to underscore the book’s plot points and themes. This structure, then, contributes to a sustained sense of suspense while enhancing the story’s subtext. Further, Hartstone achieves a nice balance of investigatory work with courtroom scenes, which would seem a given but are often lacking in so-called “legal thrillers.” Beyond the procedural aspects, there is a gradual unraveling of Euchre’s haunted past, which is hinted at throughout and largely influences his relationships.
In summation: Joey Hartstone is guilty of delivering an intellectually stimulating and emotionally resonant story that can be read as a meditation on grief, justice, and redemption—replete with a vibrant cast of characters well worth revisiting. This is an assured debut in which the author’s skill-set as a screenwriter contributes to the cinematic vibe, colorful dialog, and nimble plot twists. You’ll want to get to know The Local. Fingers crossed on a sequel.