Courtroom aficionados and trial buffs easily recognize the face and name of Gerry Spence. Spence is a frequent guest on television talk shows that deal with issues concerning the American legal system. He is a respected trial lawyer known for his buckskin jacket and western independence. His reputation is well deserved. From Karen Silkwood to Randy Weaver to Imelda Marcos, he has fought for clients in courtrooms across America. He has also found time to write numerous nonfiction books based upon his actual trial experiences. In addition, he is the author of HOW TO ARGUE AND WIN EVERY TIME, a bestseller that allowed Spence to translate his advocacy skills to everyday life.
Gerry Spence's maiden voyage into the world of fiction is HALF-MOON AND EMPTY STARS, an impressive debut in a genre that includes such notables as John Grisham, William Bernhardt, Scott Turow, and countless other lawyers turned authors. Just as in his work as a trial attorney, Gerry Spence shows that he has the skills to be a leading member of the attorney writer fraternity.
HALF-MOON is a great legal thriller that is not only a well written novel, but also an important examination of contemporary legal, moral and public issues.
HALF-MOON AND EMPTY STARS is primarily the story of Charlie Redtail, his brother William, their mother Mary Hamilton, and attorney Abner Hill. Charlie and William are the offspring of the marriage between Native American Joseph Redtail and Mary. It is Joseph's brutal death at the hands of law enforcement officials that brings Hill, the local attorney who often champions losing causes, into Mary's life. As the young boys grow to adulthood, their lives take far different turns, one towards wealth and power, and one towards the gas chamber. Gerry Spence is a fierce opponent of capital punishment. As he tells the story of Charlie Redtail he is not reluctant to share with the reader his attitude and the reasons for his position. Charlie Redtail is an innocent man wrongly convicted. Spence makes this painfully clear to the reader early on in the proceedings. Spence makes it equally clear that the system is weighted against a man like Charlie, and his actual innocence will not necessarily result in his receiving justice. Sadly, and perhaps correctly, in Spence's world justice is not equally available to all.
Along the way Spence tells a story reminiscent in parts of Irwin Shaw's RICH MAN, POOR MAN, Harper Lee's TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, and Robert Traver's LAUGHING WHITEFISH. In this first fiction effort, Gerry Spence shows a remarkable talent for creating vivid and compelling characters whose manner and dialogue are real. As one would expect from someone with Spence's courtroom experience, the trial scenes are extremely well written and true to form. To a great degree, Gerry Spence's lawyers, judges, and witnesses behave as real life participants behave in those venues.
HALF-MOON AND EMPTY STARS is a wonderful first novel by an accomplished and extraordinary writer. Its only shortcoming is the fact that Spence is too much the advocate for the position he supports. As a result, his heroes are perhaps too heroic, his villains too evil, and his issues too black and white. There are no shades of grey for Gerry Spence. Time will probably temper Spence's positions as a fiction writer. He will become more the observer than the advocate. One can hardly wait for his next effort.
Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on June 12, 2001