Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Legal Limit: A Book Review

This is my third review of a third book by Martin Clark. Clark is married to Deana of Friday Night Fish Fry). He’s a judge in Stuart, Virginia.

Martin Clark, The Legal Limit (New York: Alfred Knopf, 2008), 356 pages

Mason Hunt, the Commonwealth Attorney, has come a long ways from his horrific childhood with an abusive father. Respected in the community, he’s married to a devoted and sexy wife. They have a beautiful daughter and live on a gentleman’s farm. He also has a dark secret, one that can destroy him. And then, fate turns against him. His wife is killed in a tragic car accident and his convict brother, with whom he shared the secret, decides he’s going to use the secret to get himself out of jail. Life unravels.

Gates Hunt, Mason’s older brother, took the blunt of his father’s blows, often protecting his younger sibling. Gates was a promising football player, but couldn’t hold it together and as a young adult, slipped into the world of drugs and crime. Mason graduates from college and goes on to law school. Home one weekend, Mason and Gates are riding together when they have a run-in with Wayne Thompson, Gates’ girlfriend’s ex. They were on a remote road, no one was around. Threatened, Gates pulled out a pistol, shoots and kills Wayne. The two of them flee. Mason creates alibis, which they rehearse over and over. He also takes his brother’s pistol and disposes of it. The crime goes unsolved.

Twenty years later, Mason has come back to his hometown as the prosecutor. His brother, having shunned a plea bargain and demanded a jury trial for a drug bust, is serving a long sentence in the state penitentiary. As a single parent after his wife’s death, Mason finds himself struggling to raise a teenage daughter. He also finds himself being wooed into supporting a business opportunity for the country, an opportunity which promises short-term jobs and is funded with money from the state’s tobacco settlement. Then, in an attempt to get out of prison early, his brother fingers him in the unsolved murder of Wayne Thompson.

I won’t spoil the ending, but it suffices to say that Mason’s troubles are never truly over. The book shows how secrets can come back and haunt us, how some people are nearly unredeemable, and how we get caught in our lies. With the exception of his youthful mistake, helping his brother beat a murder rap, Mason is a good man. In fact, his honesty and integrity (in all but this one area of his life) causes his downfall (he wasn’t about to let an innocent man take the fall for his brother’s crime). This book raises many questions for the reader to ponder. What role does fate play? Why was Gates the older brother? Why does one’s wife die in an accident? It also raises questions about the evil intentions of some people (Gates, prosecutors and those in law enforcement, and those involved in schemes to spend tobacco money on a questionable development which only promise that they’ll be financially rewarded). Another question is about loyalty to family (Mason to Gates, Mason’s mother relationship to Gates, Mason to Curtis, his colleague who also has some secrets to hide, and Mason to his daughter). And finally, as the reader I’m left pondering the question of justice. Was justice done in the case? Not really, for we’re reminded of the Thompson family and their questions. Maybe a better question would be, "Could justice be done in this case?"

I enjoyed this book. The Legal Limit is not as funny as Clark’s other two novels, but in many ways, this is a more serious and tightly constructed work. I’m still pondering the ending of the book. Although I think I get what Clark is driving at, I also feel that the ending is the weakest link in Clark’s cleverly told story.

Click here for Sage’s review of Clark’s Plain Heathen Mischief
Click here for Sage’s review of Clark’s The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living


  1. So do I go and ask Clark to send me an ARC of the book to me? Wot say?


  2. It sounds interesting but I love any book involving a mystery as really life is one

    When will you be in NC in November? I'm supposed to come back to NY for Thanksgiving and made dentist and doctor appointments but I'm tired of coming back to NY :)

  3. I would love to know how it ends. I just don't know if I could go through all that pain with the main character. I could really use some lite reading material these days...Hiaasen is calling my name. I'll get that Skinny Dip book one of these days!

  4. Gautami, what is an ARC? I got this book through a local bookstore.

    Pia, although it is no mystery who killed the man, there's lots of other mysteries in the book, especially the question when the other show is going to fall. I think I fly in on the 12th and leave on the 18th.

    Scarlet, Haissen is lite and very funny.

    Mother Hen, yes, generally 7 hours a night, but I watch very little TV, occassionally the news and the Daily Show, Colbert Report being about it

  5. ARC----Advanced Readers Copy---authors are too happy to send out those copies to reviewers much before publication. And believe me, I have contacted authors in US, by the way of blogging comments or emails. Many have and still are sending me books. A few refuse too. So what? Indian authors/ publishers just don't bother to answer. Their loss!

  6. His books sound like they'd be right up my alley!

  7. Ah I like the Daily Show and Colbert Report, a lot. Used to watch them every night faithfully. But then I decided to downgrade the cable package to only about 5 channels now. So now I spend more time sleeping instead, ha :)

  8. Thanks for the review and kind words. Much appreciated--Martin Clark

  9. Gautami, I didn't know that term. That's nice of them to do that.

    Diane, I'd love to get an attorney's take on it... I've lent out my copy of his "Mobile Home Living" to our local judge--I got to get it back and see what he thinks.

    Mother Hen, 5 channels is enough!

    Martin Clark, thanks for stopping by. After reading this book and "Mobile Home Living," I would like to meet your brother! :)