Kermit Roosevelt's gripping first novel, In the Shadow of the Law, is entertaining and provocative, but caveat emptor it is not so much a conventional legal thriller as it is a passionate examination of the way the law works in America. It is also a compelling portrait of the men and women who practice law. Two cases set the stage for the novel. First, a married couple is found murdered in Virginia. After receiving an anonymous tip, police arrest Wayne Lee Harper, who promptly confesses. At trial, Harper is sentenced to death. With only weeks remaining before his execution, Harper now desperately needs pro bono representation for a final appeal. Second, there is a catastrophic explosion at Hubble Chemical in Texas. Dozens of workers are killed. Now, Hubble needs representation in a class-action lawsuit that threatens to destroy the company.
Several lawyers from the powerful D.C. firm Morgan Siler step up to meet the challenges of the two cases. Mark Clayton is fresh out of law school and questioning his career choice when he is thrust over his head into the Harper case. In the meantime, brilliant associate Walker Eliot keeps busy maintaining the pretense of working on the Harper case while doing as little as possible. In another Morgan Siler office, the incredibly successful litigator Harold Fineman leads the Hubble defense team, although he finds himself dangerously distracted by Katja Phillips, the attractive idealist assigned to assist him. Fineman and Phillips must also contend with Ryan Grady, a confused associate who is more concerned with women than with the law. A law professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a former Supreme Court law clerk, Roosevelt is a great-great-grandson of Theodore Roosevelt. In the Shadow of the Law is clear and convincing evidence that he is also a powerful storyteller who knows how to craft an intricately plotted page-turner filled with intriguing characters. Tim Davis teaches literature at the University of West Florida in Pensacola.