If you go
What: Boulder author Jeanne Winer speaks and signs her new book, "Her Kind of Case"
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Boulder Book Store, 1107 Pearl St., Boulder
Cost: $5 voucher
More info: boulderbookstore.net or 303-447-2074
Lee Isaacs, the lawyer at the heart of long-time Boulder criminal-defense attorney Jeanne Winer's new novel, "Her Kind of Case," is the quintessential Boulderite.
On the cusp of 60, Isaacs is not merely physically fit. She's a kick-ass karate practitioner for whom a complete out-and-back hike of the Mesa Trail or 14-mile cross-country skiing jaunt at Walker Ranch is no big deal.
She's open-minded and progressive, widow to a bisexual mountaineer killed in a Himalayan avalanche and best friends to the gay couple who were his climbing partners. She likes Chet Baker and Fritz Scholder. She has a cat.
Many a red-staters — and even rural Coloradans — would slam Isaacs as a no-good, bleeding-heart liberal, when in fact, she's just a good attorney who believes fervently in the constitutional right to a fair trial. But now, despite worrying that she's lost her mojo after losing a big case, she's decided to take on a particularly tough client, an apparent skinhead with Nazi tattoos named Jeremiah Matthews, who goes by Jeremy.
Matthews is accused of joining in his skinhead mates' "boot party" and kicking to death a former associate, Sam Donnelly, whom they learned was gay. She sympathizes with him after learning from his aunt that he was kicked into the streets by his strict Christian fundamentalist father at age 16, but the teen has confessed and insists that he will stand by his "brothers."
Isaacs' gay friends, Mark and Bobby, are disgusted that she would take on such a client.
"Your client was sixteen and could have made a choice. He was old enough. He could have decided not to go along with it. It would have been tough, but he could have walked away," Mark says. "I think he's despicable."
"It doesn't matter," she responds when Mark reminds her that Jeremy has confessed. "He's still presumed to be innocent. So whether you like it or not, I'm going to do everything in my power to get my client acquitted."
When Isaacs learns why Jeremy was kicked out of the house, the boy's despicable façade begins to crumble, and she believes he is innocent. The suspense in the latter half of the novel plays out almost entirely in front of a judge, and it will keep readers turning pages.
No less engrossing than the plot is Winer's candid portrayal of how the American legal system tends to work behind the scenes. It's not very pretty; indeed, several characters feel the need to defend the system, even as they acknowledge its many flaws.
Readers who don't work in the legal system may blanch at the curious — though admittedly necessary — collegiality between prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges, tit-for-tat favors between attorneys, bald-faced bargaining that puts little weight on ascertaining the truth and the shockingly unimportant factors that can sway a jury.
"Nothing from the people," the prosecutor tells the judge when declining to cross-examine Jeremy's mother, "hoping to convey that the witness' testimony wasn't important enough to be subjected to prosecutorial questioning."
One of the novel's small pleasures is Winer's frequent references to Boulder places and things, from Spruce Confections to Flagstaff Mountain. Many will also appreciate her periodic pokes at the kind of lofty, affluent culture that has come to dominate Boulder.
"Hey, if she (Isaacs) stopped lawyering and got tired of traveling," Winer writes, "she could always remodel her kitchen: the time-honored middle-class response to existential angst."
There are a few very slight bumps here and there, such as a tendency to drop small, easily digestible but somewhat awkward bits of exposition (something that may have been required by an editor who doesn't quite trust readers).
And while there are likable men in the novel, the straight guys tend to be troglodytes — Jeremy's ogre of a father — abusers — the lawyer working for Isaacs has been suspended for domestic violence — and creeps — the skinheads and two random guys who harass into demonstrating her karate skills.
"It's not fair," mopes Carla, Isaacs' investigator. "All the nicest, best-looking men are gay."
To which Isaacs thinks, "Not always ... Sometimes, if you were lucky, they were bi."
I confess I couldn't help thinking of a recent hilarious musical number, "Let's Generalize About Men," on Rachel Bloom's edgy comedy, "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend": "Let's take one bad thing about one man/And apply it to all of them. ... Gay men are all really great/Every single one./They're never mean, just sassy/They're all completely adorable and fun."
But those are minor nitpicks. "Her Kind of Case" is readable, thought-provoking and entertaining, and Boulder readers, especially, will enjoy the many not-so-hidden local Easter eggs tucked throughout the novel.
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