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A Cure for Night    by Justin Peacock order for
Cure for Night
by Justin Peacock
Order:  USA  Can
Vintage, 2009 (2008)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

There's a new writer on the legal mystery scene, one who can easily hold his own with Scott Turow. After a lucrative start in the legal profession, protagonist Joel Deveraux succumbs to the temptation of heroin. He wakes from this nightmare to find himself a Brooklyn public defender at a minimal salary. After serving his time defending drug users and petty thieves, as well as those accused of assault and rape, he is given something with meat. He is to be second chair on a murder case.

This is a high profile case a white college student is shot and killed and a black drug pusher is severely wounded. Another black drug dealer from the projects is accused of the crime. This is a racially biased trial. Joel's co-counsel is highly experienced and Joel feels he's on the way up - depending on how high up one can get in a public defender's chair. The main thrust to the case, of course, is to determine who is telling the truth and who is not. And, if not, why not? It seems as though the best story or the best actor stands the best chance in the justice system. While I hate to think this is true, how could it be any other way? The scenes taking place in the projects, at night time in the city's back streets - and especially those set in the prisons - make me relieved that I chose to live a law-abiding life.

The storyline keeps readers on their toes, with enough twists and turns to satisfy any mystery fan. What struck me particularly was the street patois with which author Justin Peacock peppers his dialogue. Possibly this is the way his real life clients talk. He has a law degree from Yale. He obviously writes of what he knows - and he does it very well.

2nd Review by Rheta Van Winkle (Rating:2):

A Cure for Night is a mystery, wrapped in a courtroom novel, wrapped in a story about drug dealing and life on the streets in the dilapidated housing projects of Brooklyn. Joel, the main character and narrator, is a lawyer who lost his job making big bucks in a large legal firm because he was using drugs. The young woman he'd been dating, who worked with him, had introduced him to heroin, and he had become a user. She overdosed in a ladies' room at work and, in his words, his 'life fell apart.'

The story really begins after this when Joel starts to work in the public defender's office, the only job he is able to find after his six-month suspension from practicing law. He'd been 'handling arraignments for about six months, five days a week of working out of the aging courthouse's dark and narrow rooms across from the holding cells, conducting five-minute interviews, then heading down the hall and up to the courtroom, where {his} clients would enter their initial pleas.' When he suddenly gets the chance to work with another lawyer on a high-profile murder case, Joel is thrilled to escape from the deadly routine in that aged courthouse. Myra, who has been handling murder cases alone for a long time, doesn't welcome his assistance, and believes he will be a liability to her. But after working together for a while, they become a team.

The murder case is interesting, but these white lawyers are no match for the young drug dealers from the projects. They are consistently lied to, and can only sometimes tell the lies from the truth. None of those they approach, who might have information about the case, are willing to help them. They struggle to figure out what actually happened and to defend Lorenzo Tate - who was identified as the murderer by an eye witness, but who denies any involvement in the killing, claiming that he didn't even own a gun.

This is a fast-paced story about some really nasty characters, and even the protagonist isn't that admirable. The biggest problem that I had with the book, though, was that Joel is the only one we really get to know. The other characters - even Myra, who has an important role in the story - seem shallow, some of them just names with a few facts thrown in. In order to keep them all straight, I kept a list that I could refer to as I read. Perhaps if you read the book from cover to cover in one sitting this wouldn't be necessary.

I can't say I enjoyed A Cure for Night much. I like books with characters who are more sympathetic and jump off the page. Although Joel qualifies, none of the others seemed to be real people with both good and bad qualities. The end was disappointing to me, too, with unresolved issues and one character who seemed to have a strange role in the novel. He just disappears into the sunset, as it were, leaving behind big questions. Was he there just to keep the reader from figuring out the ending? If so, I find it a questionable trick on the author's part. That said, if you're looking for escape fiction on the dark side, this is your book.

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