The Mourning Sexton
A brilliant splash on the legal thriller scene, this debut novel
starts placidly with ex-con, now-restored attorney David Hirsch
performing his duties as gabbai at a daily mourning ritual.
He is beginning fresh after falling to extreme lows in both his
legal and personal lives, working mainly bankruptcy reorganizations
and settlements under the supervision of his old friend Seymour
One morning, one of the men gathered for the minyan asks
Hirsch to help him. He wishes to find justice for his daughter,
Judith, who died three years earlier in a tragic accident. He needs
to act quickly, though, before the statute of limitations runs out
--- and before his memory falls victim entirely to his advancing
Alzheimer's. At first, Hirsch balks, claiming his days as a
plaintiff's attorney are over. But the old man's pleas, coupled
with Hirsch's desire to reconnect with his own estranged daughters,
persuade him to at least consider it. The story steadily gathers
momentum from there.
What appeared on the surface as a fairly straightforward wrongful
death case starts to look much more sinister the deeper that Hirsch
digs. The basic facts seem uncomplicated: Judith volunteered to
drive Judge McCormick home from a party due to his advanced degree
of inebriation. McCormick, a man Judith had clerked for and
seemingly admired, acceded to her suggestion. Icy roads and a lack
of familiarity with McCormick's SUV were blamed for what happened.
The judge, apparently insulated by his relaxed alcoholic state,
survived the crash. Judith did not. Her father, still smarting from
the sting of a strained relationship with Judith, grappled with the
decision to sue the auto manufacturer, tire fabricator, and anyone
associated with the vehicle and its components. But believing that
slick streets took his daughter from him is something the old man
simply refuses to do.
With the aid of Seymour Rosenbloom and highly respected --- and
beautiful --- Dulcie Lorenz, Hirsch forges ahead against the
defendants' high-powered lawyers, colleagues who carry a long-time
grudge and no admiration for the recently released felon. It looked
like it could get ugly. And it did. Uglier than Hirsch would have
believed possible. It started to get downright dangerous. And
coming out of it alive was looking doubtful.
To complicate matters, the ice between him and his youngest
daughter has begun to thaw. As delighted as he is to have her back
in his life, he must push her away in order to protect her. In
fact, he isolates himself from everyone he cares about. The less
they know, the safer they will be.
Author Michael Baron, an attorney himself, has no trouble making
the legal aspects of the story sound authentic. The courtrooms come
alive in his deft hands, with rich characters that texture THE
MOURNING SEXTON with a lush feeling of realism.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on January 7, 2011