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Tuesday, September 22, 2015


4 stars out of 5

Rule No. 1: Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you.

I'm not sure who said it first - quick research led me to author Joseph Heller in Catch-22 - but it popped into my head within the first few chapters of this book and hung around for the duration. Even the ending, in which all the loose ends are tied up, reinforced the say-it-ain't-so notion that everybody's got an agenda.

Many characters come and go throughout - virtually all of them carrying secrets they'd rather not share with the world - which means good guys and gals can turn into baddies at the turn of a chapter. That's a good thing; those twists held my attention from beginning to end - and I thank the publisher, via NetGalley, for granting me the opportunity to read and review the book.

Given my not-too-infrequent tendency to walk to the kitchen only to forget why I'm standing there, an overload of characters usually is a bit frustrating; so, too, is the shift in chapters from various perspectives and settings. But here, the author utilizes the latter technique well;  each chapter adds stepping stones that build to the conclusion as well as enough background to help my aging mind keep everyone straight.

The concept certainly is intriguing: Creation of a "Jury Town" in which 200 citizens will be sequestered for two years, thus (in theory, at least) avoiding the threat of jury tampering that appears to be running rampant in the outside world. This community of jurors will hear cases from inside a secured, refurbished prison, paid handsomely for their 24-month disconnect from anyone and anything that isn't related to the trials to which they're assigned. The effort is led by Victoria Lewis, former Virginia governor, backed by a couple of powerful behind-the-scenes partners. Burned by her own father's years-ago wrongful conviction at the hands of a tainted jury, Victoria is intent on doing whatever it takes to make the project a model for the rest of the country.

Enter Rule No. 2: There's many a slip 'tween the cup and the lip. Almost before the first trial begins, possible corruption inside the walls rears its ugly head, threatening to pull the rug from under the entire project and threatening a few lives as well. But who can Victoria trust? For an answer that won't reveal spoilers, see Rule No. 1 above; just know that for Victoria, it's touch-and-go, trial-and-error (pun intended) all the way to the end.

If I have a nit to pick, it's that the wrap-up chapters seem a tad too rushed; action-packed is to be expected (and desired), but it almost felt like this little corner of the Old Dominion state got blasted by a tsunami. Of course, that also means I didn't have to wait as long to learn the outcome, but given that I was enjoying the book, I'd like to have savored it a little bit longer. 

Jury Town by Stephen Frey (Thomas & Mercer, September 2015); 352 pp.

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