Monday, July 12, 2010
THE DEVIL AMONGST THE LAWYERS by Sharyn McCrumb
I liked this book, but not as a mystery.
This is the story of the1935 trial of a young teacher in the mountains of Virginia.
Authorities accuse Erma Morton of the murder of her father.
The national press distorts everything about the trial. Well-known big city reporters make the people of Wise County, Virginia, into the stereotypes their readers would expect. Finally, most of the reporters leave the scene and continue to report as if they were still there. So all the real stories in the book live within the people.
If what I've said so far makes the book sound leisurely in the telling, that's the case. The Devil Amongst The Lawyers begins with the reporters getting on the train to go cover the story. Then it goes from there.
Much of the book deals with the lives and stories of the reporters themselves.
For me, at least, the most interesting part doesn't come until the last quarter of the book when Nora Bonesteel comes on the scene.
Nora, just thirteen years old in 1935, has a small role in the whole story. Still her second sight is as fascinating as ever.
In a way, McCrumb's writing has a Biblical quality. In the Bible, we get a sense of the sweep of history, the coming and going of generations, the way lives end and lead to other lives.
Especially with Nora' epilogue, I get that sense here too.
I am taken by the portrayal of journalism in 1935 (and perhaps, to some extent, now). At one point, Erma says,
"I thought it might have occurred to [the reporters] that if they ever got good enough at making people believe their outlandish tales, then someday they might be powerful enough to start a war or choose a president . . . . I think they cared about power more than they cared about the outcome of this no-account backwoods trial."
Supposedly, this is McCrumb's fictional retelling of an actual event. I found it interesting, both for the stories of the people and for what I took to be McCrumb's barely disguised anger at the way outsiders, big city journalists, often condescend in their telling of the stories of the hill people she loves.