Beth's Book Review

The Devil Amongst the Lawyers by Sharyn McCrumb

69afc5e6152e6c5dea98_Devil_Amongst_the_Lawyers.jpg
69afc5e6152e6c5dea98_Devil_Amongst_the_Lawyers.jpg

The Devil Amongst the Lawyers by Sharyn McCrumb (St. Martin's Press, 2010)

 

Years ago, when I attended my first Malice Domestic convention, I met Sharyn McCrumb, author of three beloved series, including the Elizabeth McPerson, the Ballad, and the St. Dale series. Malice Domestic, which recently celebrated its 29th year, is an annual mystery fan convention, held in Bethesda, Maryland. A wide range of writers attend, speaking in forums, giving workshops, and holding meet and greets to autograph their works for avid readers. Over the years I had met Harlan Coben, Patricia Cornwell, Barbara Taylor Bradford, and Patricia Noyes among a few of the notables in attendance. However, Sharyn McCrumb, with her raven hair and Elizabeth Taylor eyes, wearing a flowing cloak of black velvet, continues to be the most exciting personality I have ever met at the gathering of literary notables. She was as warm and interesting as the characters she has created, particularly in the Ballad grouping.

Since meeting McCrumb, I have devoured every one of her works, and each time I visit the library I scour the new arrivals to see if she has published again. Unfortunately, McCrumb hasn't put out anything new since 2013. However, recently I discovered The Devil Amongst the Lawyers, which had somehow escaped me upon its publication. I have long been wanting to write about McCrumb in my column, and reading this book has given me an opportunity to pay tribute to the great Sharyn McCrumb, a masterful American story teller.

Sign Up for E-News

Set in 1935, The Devil Amongst the Lawyers, recounts the story of a young teacher, Erma Morton, who is accused of killing her father by bashing in his head following an argument about her coming home late from an evening with friends. Based on the actual murder trial of Edith Maxwell, McCrumb focuses her story on the feeding frenzy of the press, which thrives on stories of violence and tragedy, such as the coverage of Pretty Boy Floyd, Bonnie and Clyde, and the “trial of the century,” the kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindbergh, Jr.

As the trial of Erma Morton is about to commence, Henry Jernigan, a well known newspaperman, Rose Hanelon, a homely and pathetic sob-sister, Carl Jennings, a novice writer fresh out of college, and Shade Baker, an avid photographer, rush to Appalachia to cover the hottest story of the moment. Although Erma is in the eye of the storm, we learn more about each of the journalists, who are fascinating and complex creatures, striving to come up with the most vivid version of the alleged crime.

None of these writers are in Virginia to get at the truth of the story. In fact, the big syndicates have prearranged with the brother of the accused, a nasty piece of work named Harley Morton, to have exclusive interviews with Erma, who doesn't seem to be talking much about her father's death to anyone. Erma may very well be a sacrificial lamb to the gods of sensationalistic journalism. In a conversation with an old reporter, the elder writer explains the power of a journalist to young Carl by explaining, “Hell, son, the pen isn't mightier than the sword. It is the sword.” (p. 7)

Jernigan, recognized among his peers as a celebrity author, had spent several years in Japan during the 1920s. As the result of experiencing the Kanto earthquake, Jernigan suffers from a form of post-traumatic stress disorder, which cripples him emotionally. McCrumb peppers the novel with the haiku of the great 17th century Japanese poet, Matsuo Basho, tying the simple, but elegant, Asian poems to the events of Jernigan's past with the current tragedy of Erma Morton.

One of the tricks of the journalist's trade in regaling their readership with high interest stories is to link the events being covered with great pieces of literature. An example of this device is noted when Jernigan is reading a book on the train headed toward Wise, the site of the trial. The journalist notes, “After sixty interminable pages, he had begun to think of the book as the 'The Trail of the Loathsome Pine,' a quip he planned to spring on his colleagues as soon as he met up with them. At last winter's trial in New Jersey, clever but ugly Rose Hanelon had made a similar play on words with a Gene Stratton Porter title. When the family governess had committed suicide, Rose took to referring to her as the 'Girl of the Lindbergh-Lost.'” (p. 9)

Young Carl Jennings does want to tell a version of the truth in his first major story, and he has an idea that allows for McCrumb to bring in one of her greatest characters of the Ballad series, Nora Bonesteel. As are most of the Appalachian people, Nora, is a descendent of the Scottish settlers, who brought such famous ballads as “She Walks These Hills,” and “If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O,” to America with them. But Nora, who appears in this novel as a nine year old child, has another gift which many of the Scottish ancestors brought with them; the gift of second sight. Carl is hopeful that Nora will be able to help him find out what really happened on the night that Erma's father died. However, Nora tried to explain to her naïve cousin that having the gift of second sight doesn't work that way. Jennings, with his noble intentions, has the greatest challenge in writing his version of the trial.

If you are a fan of mysteries and you have never heard of Sharyn McCrumb, I am presenting you with a great gift in today's column. Start with the first Ballad novel, The Ballad of Frankie Silver, and then don't miss the first of McCrumb's engaging series about auto racing, St. Dale. With summer just ahead of us, McCrumb will keep you page turning while sitting at the beach or late into night.

 

Beth Moroney, former English teacher and administrator in the Edison Public School District, specialized in teaching Creative Writing and Journalism. Recently Moroney published Significant Anniversaries of Holocaust/Genocide Education and Human/Civil Rights, available through the New Jersey Commission on the Holocaust. A passionate reader, Moroney is known for recommending literature to students, teachers, parents, and the general public for over forty years. Moroney can be contacted at trackdak19@hotmail.com.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TAPinto.net or anyone who works for TAPinto.net. TAPinto.net is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Elizabeth

Upcoming Events

Sun, January 21, 3:30 PM

Temple Emanu-El, Westfield

Mostly Music Chamber Music Concert

Arts & Entertainment

Wed, January 24, 7:00 PM

Congregation Beth Israel, Scotch Plains

Course on Biblical Interpretation Taught by ...

Education Religions And Spirituality

Wed, January 24, 7:30 PM

Cranford Community Center, Cranford

Florian Schantz Jazz Combo - Dixieland Concert

Arts & Entertainment

New Jersey Reentry Corporation Site Grand Opening in Union County on Friday

January 18, 2018

ELIZABETH, NJ - The New Jersey Reentry Corporation (NJRC), a nonprofit agency serving court-involved individuals, will host a grand opening of their new reentry site in Union County on Friday, Jan. 19, at 11 a.m. 

The office is located at 214-A Commerce Place in Elizabeth, N.J. There is a possibility of Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver attending the ...

The Elizabeth PBA Seeks Assistance from Residents for Blood Drive

ELIZABETH, NJ--January is National Blood Donor Month and the Elizabeth Policeman’s Benevolent Association (P.B.A.) will be sponsoring a blood drive on Thursday, January 18, 2018, from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Elizabeth Police Headquarters located at 1 Police Plaza.

The American Red Cross maintains that blood donation is critical for the following reasons:

Every two seconds ...

Champions of Magic Coming to Rahway for Sunday Show at Union County Performing Arts Center

January 19, 2018

RAHWAY, NJ - World class Illusionists, the Champions of Magic, are set to perform 2 p.m. Sunday at the Union County Performing Arts Center, 1601 Irving St., Rahway.

The show is part of the Sensory Friendly Theatre series sponsored by the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders.

“Sensory Friendly Theatre offers a welcoming, non-judgmental space for children with autism and other ...

Online Retailer Amazon Rejects Somerville as Potential Location for Massive “HQ2”

January 19, 2018

SOMERVILLE, NJ – Amazon released its short list of  20 potential sites to build a massive east coast headquarters Thursday, disappointing more than 200 other cities and smaller towns that had salivated over the prospect of 50,000 new jobs and billions of dollars in associated economic benefits – including Somerville.

The 20 finalists include the city of Newark; a total of 238 ...

Letter to the Editor: Make the Road New Jersey Condemns End of Protected Status for 250,000 Salvadorans

January 9, 2018

Recently the Trump administration announced the end of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Salvadorans. Effective Sept. 9, 2019, nearly 200,000 people who have been living and working legally in the U.S. for almost two decades, who have American families, homes, and businesses, will be subject to deportation. 10,000 Salvadoran TPS holders currently reside in New Jersey.

Make the Road New ...

Dog Found in Roselle Still Being Held at Newark Shelter

January 15, 2018

ROSELLE, NJ - A dog that was found on January 9, is still being held at the Newark Animal Shelter because no owner has claimed him. 

Roselle Police said the dog was found in the area of the Roselle side of Warinanco Park. The dog has a distinct blue eye and brown eye. Police also said the animal was checked and had no chip or tags. 

The Newark Animal Shelter ...

Mark Zuckerberg Should Be Concerned About His Legacy; Punishing Legitimate Media Organizations and Small Businesses Isn’t the Answer; Regulation Is

Facebook recently announced it will be changing its feed and algorithms so that news from publishers and posts from businesses will be relegated in favor of posts about your neighbor’s cat. 

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook is making these changes because he is concerned about his legacy and that of the company he founded. If ...

Union County Establishes the First County LGBTQ Office in New Jersey

January 21, 2018

Union County, NJ - The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders is proud to announce the launch of the new Office of LGBTQ Services. Established as part of Freeholder Chairman Sergio Granados' 2018 Moving Union County Forward initiatives, the new LGBTQ office is the first County government office of its kind in the State of New Jersey.

Operating under the new Division of Outreach and ...