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The Legal Limit    by Martin Clark order for
Legal Limit
by Martin Clark
Order:  USA  Can
Vintage, 2009 (2008)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Deb Kincaid

The American legal system doesn't necessarily serve justice; sometimes it hobbles it. Sometimes the good guy is the one in the hot seat. This is the premise of Martin Clark's The Legal Limit.

An older brother takes the brunt of an abusive father's brutality, protecting his little brother as much as possible. The brothers remain close growing up. The older, Gates, becomes a high school football star who wins a scholarship, but drops out after one semester; he doesn't like anyone telling him what to do. The younger brother, Mason, shines academically and goes on to attend law school. When Mason makes a visit home over summer break, Gates winds up killing a local man. Feeling indebted to his older brother, Mason helps cover up the crime. Fast forward two decades. Gates is sitting in the penitentiary serving a 44-year sentence for drug dealing; Mason is a commonwealth attorney in his home town. Ticked off that his brother won't bend the law or use his position to get him out of jail, Gates claims his kid brother committed the unsolved murder of twenty years ago. Now, not only is Mason's reputation and career on the line, but he can't tell the truth without implicating himself.

The author's day job is a circuit court judge, and he lives in Stuart, Virginia, the setting for The Legal Limit. His knowledge of the law, the court system, and the dilemmas attorneys and judges sometimes find themselves in add depth of authenticity to the story. Clark's characters are well drawn, and contribute to the setting seamlessly; the brisk plotting keeps the tension taut, and until the very end of the book, you won't know Mason's fate. There's some superfluous writing and a little bit of posturing that adds nothing to the story, but all in all this is a great read, and I look forward to Clark's next book.

2nd Review by Mary Ann Smyth (Rating:3):

Martin Clark has brought the biblical Cain and Abel story up-to-date with his third novel, The Legal Limit. Clark is a consummate storyteller, making his newest jewel extremely hard to put down.

Gates Hunt is profligate, caring only for himself and his wayward lifestyle. His brother Mason has put himself through law school to become the commonwealth's attorney for their small, rural town in Virginia. A violent encounter with a rival for Gates' girl's affections triggers a tragedy that involves both of them. While Mason goes back to his life, Gates continues on the wrong path and ends up in prison.

Clark clearly loves the area he is writing about, going so far as to graphically share the changing of the seasons with his readers. I am familiar with the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains. They always refresh my spirits as they do Mason's.

Clark's characters are fictional but real enough to get angry with one and feel sorry for another. I wanted to belt Gates a few times. Hard to believe anyone could act the way he does. But, on reflection, we really don't know each other as well as we think we do. There is always a surprise in the wings to completely baffle us. Clark has created the perfect players to prove his point. By the way, The Legal Limit is based on true happenings.

Racial issues are discussed as is homosexuality but only as an adjunct to this fine tale. I can't tell more of the tightly written plot. Don't want to spoil the book for anyone. It's a good one. No! A very good one. Engrossing. Suspenseful. Sad. Funny. A breath-holding, heart-stopping read.

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