Friday, June 25, 2010

Sharyn McCrumb is Back with a New Ballad Novel

I was delighted to win this new book from Goodreads and thanks also to St. Martin's Press for sending me to a wonderful audio introduction complete with appropriate music as well as interviews with McCrumb. You can find these at

If, like me, you are a longtime fan of the Ballad novels, you might be disappointed to find that Nora Bonesteel, gifted with The Sight, has only a small role in this book. However, it is a wonderful read with what I think is an important message.

McCrumb is superb at characterization and that's what I enjoyed most about The Devil Amongst the Lawyers. The devil in question is New York reporters who show up in a little mountain town in Virginia for a big murder trial. The local schoolteacher is on trial for murdering her own father. The trial actually happened in 1935 and the story is basically true to what happened, just populated with McCrumb's real-as-life characters.

The main character in the book is Henry Jernigan, a famous reporter. He had spent many years in Japan and that experience plays a role in this story. He and the other reporters have packed their preconceptions for the trip, so much so that they can write their first article on the train before they even arrive. Their mission is to sell newspapers, you see, and the truth doesn't really matter at all to them, especially the fact that instead of hillbilly shacks, etc., what they actually find is normal small-town America. Nora Bonesteel's cousin, a rookie reporter for a small town paper in Tennessee, actually tries to report the truth but that doesn't sell papers. One of the NY reporters says something like the truth is merely whatever you can convince people to believe. Talk about jaded.

I knew early on whodunit, but that isn't really the point anyway. The point is the reporters' coverage of the trial and their superior attitude toward the locals which gets the predictable response. I enjoyed the book but was a little sad that too often 2010 reporting follows the example of what was true in 1935. It's just as hard to know what's true now as it was then.

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