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Blood on the Leaves    by Jeff Stetson order for
Blood on the Leaves
by Jeff Stetson
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2004 (2004)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

James Reynolds is a black prosecutor in Jackson, Mississippi - the only one. He enjoys his job despite his obnoxious boss, Melvin Vanzant, and despite the 'large number of white people who made him extremely uneasy by trying terribly hard to make him comfortable.' James loves his wife Cheryl and their children, Angela and Christopher. Life is good, aside from the regular nightmares he's suffered since childhood. Then old white men begin to be die in scenes staged to mirror the 1960s murders of black people.

It turns out that a black history professor, Martin Matheson, has been documenting the dead men's roles in past atrocities. Martin, whom James has never really liked, is the son of Reverend Samuel Matheson, a prominent civil rights leader and also pastor to the Reynolds family. Martin has compiled and distributed bios of 'civil rights 'war criminals'', inciting his students to action. Many of these good ol' boys were arrested but subsequently acquitted by all-white juries. Now someone's after vengeance, and is systematically taking them out.

James Reynolds is a friend of Todd Miller, 'the last native-born white liberal lawyer in Mississippi'. They end up on opposite sides of a courtroom drama, after Martin Matheson is arrested for murder. The Reynolds are chucked out of church. James believes in justice, but is torn by horror at what was done to the original victims, and by memories slowly emerging from his continuing nightmares. On the other side of the celebrity trial, Miller expunges his own demons. Both lawyers are villified by their communities.

Blood on the Leaves is an excellent legal thriller, but there's much more to it. It shows two men, more alike than either will admit, on different sides of a moral divide. It covers the effects of an exposure to violence on children, and the legacy of the 60s to the black community in general. And it takes the stand that color (black or white) should never decide justice.

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