In 1966 in Pulaski, Tennessee, Bocephus Haynes watched in horror as his father was brutally murdered by ten local members of the Ku Klux Klan. As an African American lawyer practicing in the birthplace of the Klan years later, Bo has spent his life pursuing justice in his father’s name. But when Andy Walton, the man believed to have led the lynch mob forty-five years earlier, ends up murdered in the same spot as Bo’s father, Bo becomes the prime suspect.
Retired law professor Tom McMurtrie, Bo’s former teacher and friend, is a year removed from returning to the courtroom. Now McMurtrie and his headstrong partner, Rick Drake, must defend Bo on charges of capital murder while hunting for Andy Walton’s true killer. In a courtroom clash that will put their reputations and lives at stake, can McMurtrie and Drake release Bo from a lifetime of despair? Or will justice remain hidden somewhere between black and white?
Prepare to immerse yourself in the tinderbox tension of racially divided Tennessee in Robert Bailey’s legal thriller Between Black and White, and what a thriller it is…
This is an incredibly character driven book from the accused and extremely empathetic Bocephus Haynes, to the small band of men dedicated to clearing his name. Haynes, having witnessed the death of his father at the hands of the KKK as a young child, has devoted his life to both the law, and to bringing his father’s killers to justice. What Bailey so ardently portrays within Haynes’ character is the toll this has wreaked on both his sense of self, and his relationship with those closest to him. He is a man of warring morality, with his strong belief in the due process of law, and yet the primal urge to dispense justice outside of it, having made physical threats to the now aged Andy Walton, the man he believes was instrumental in his father’s killing. Haynes rides a gamut of emotions throughout the books, bringing the reader with him, as he is essentially a good man but is he a killer too? Bailey carefully manipulates his character from the outspoken and strident avenger to a man placed firmly in the hands of his legal team whose endeavours on his behalf will ultimately decide his fate.
His retired law professor Tom McMurtrie, young lawyer Rick Drake, and ex-divorce lawyer, now drunkard, Ray Pickalew, make up the merry band fighting to clear Haynes’ name, going into battle against ballsy local prosecutor Helen Lewis. All four of these characters are incredibly well-drawn, and Haynes’ team in particular are put through a real emotional and physical wringer as the plot progresses. The ties that bind in terms of personal loyalty to Haynes are stretched and tightened by Bailey’s assured depiction of McMurtrie and Pickalew in particular, when surprising revelations come to the surface as the courtroom action comes to the forefront. The characterisation, and the interplay between these protagonists, hold the plot and pace extremely well throughout, and Bailey lines up a similar crew of dastardly and not-so dastardly surrounding cast perfectly placed to thwart or aid the defence of Haynes.
The setting of Pulaski, Tennessee adds another layer to the plot, being the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan, and a town steeped in racial tension, with a chequered and violent history. Bailey takes some interesting diversions along the way with his depiction of the town and its history that bolster the atmosphere of the book, but never to the detriment of the pace of the story. The courtroom itself instantly brought to mind shades of To Kill A Mockingbird, with its segregated layout, and the references to the social and legal history of Pulaski itself. Bailey’s measured use of his chosen location lifts and enhances his already assured plot further, and I found these interludes of potted history very interesting indeed, as we bear witness to not only the current events but those of forty five years previously. He also depicts very well the strata of power and influence within this community, again linked so closely to the history of the town, and the seemingly unassailable challenge that Haynes’ legal team are confronted with to bring those with local stature to justice.
I will confess that legal thrillers as a rule are not really a favourite genre of mine, but I do have a keen interest in the chequered racial history of the United States, so was drawn to Between Black and White for that reason. With Bailey’s own background as a lawyer adding a real authenticity to the plot, and his exemplary characterisation, the control of tension, and pitch perfect use of historical fact throughout, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Highly recommended.
(With thanks to Thomas and Mercer for the ARC)