Book review: Con Law by Mark Gimenez

cv_con_lawThis book is in bookstores now

In this new novel from American crime-thriller writer Mark Gimenez, John Bookman, “Book”, is a constitutional law professor at the University of Texas. He’s frequently mentioned as a candidate for the Supreme Court but would rather be attempting to shape the money-obsessed young minds of the new scarily cynical generation of law students.

He’s as famous for his wars of words with politicians on TV talk shows as he is for taking on lost causes. When he receives a letter from a former student who has evidence of large-scale environmental crimes taking place in West Texas, Book is compelled to investigate.

The West Texas town of Marfa is almost another character in the story. Gimenez’s evocative descriptions of the natural beauty of the region, and Marfa in particular, are a compelling advertisement for the tourism board. It is difficult to get through some passages without at the very least developing a strong craving for Tex-Mex cuisine.

A former railroad town, Marfa reached the peak of its fame in the 1956 film Giant, starring James Dean and Rock Hudson. The town was rescued from its decline into poverty and joblessness by a burgeoning art movement, spearheaded by Donald Judd. Now a haven for rich folk from Dallas and New York, once-rural Marfa is schizophrenically torn between liberal and conservative, artists and cattle ranchers, Democrats and Republicans. (However, the obsession of one of the characters to define the sexuality of each and every person she came across got a little wearying for this reviewer. I understand that the tension between gay and straight is a big part of the us versus them standoff in rural communities, like Marfa, as the urban artist types move in, but it did feel a little unenlightened to harp on about it quite so repeatedly. We get it, move on.)

Nowhere is the tension between old Marfa and new Marfa more pronounced than in the controversy over fracking. The locals working the natural gas wells are intensely protective of the industry that provides so many of them with jobs and equally fierce in their opposition to crusading environmentalists. With fracking causing similar concerns in New Zealand, this aspect of the story certainly made for a fascinating and topical read. Interestingly, the fracking how-to YouTube video that the characters watch in the book really exists and it is worth popping in a bookmark to take a quick break to look it up and watch it alongside them.

Through the character Professor Bookman and his Con Law One class, the book delivers a reasonable volume of constitutional law lessons (Obamacare, Roe v Wade, privacy rights) but it’s delivered in a way that is both easy to digest and interesting to read, even (perhaps especially) for a non-American audience.

As a former lawyer myself, there is something comforting about reading a legal thriller written by a lawyer (Gimenez practiced with a large law firm in Dallas, Texas); you can relax and trust that the legal content is probably pretty accurate. It makes for a more realistic and less distracting reading experience.

This is the third of Gimenez’s books that I have read and I have enjoyed them all. Con Law is an easy, pacey read with a film-script-worthy “shoot ‘em up” car chase climax. It seems that Professor Bookman is going to be a regular character in his own ongoing series and I look forward to meeting him again soon.

Review by Tiffany Matsis

Con Law
by Mark Gimenez
Published by Hachette
ISBN 9781847443809

Read Tiffany’s interview with Mark Gimenez.

Author Q+A with Mark Gimenez, author of The Governor’s Wife

We asked our reviewer Tiffany Matsis to review The Governor’s Wife then come up with some questions for the author. Tiffany and Mark are both former lawyers making her the perfect interviewer to get right under the skin of what makes this writer – and his latest novel – tick.

The Governor’s Wife is in bookstores now. See a description of the plot of this novel on the publisher’s website.

(Tiffany) Reading about the colonias is quite an eye-opener for a New Zealander who is quite literally half a world away and living in a country that doesn’t have any land borders. It’s difficult to even imagine, although your book was very educational. How much of your description of the harshness of life on the border is real and how much is fiction?
(Mark) Unfortunately, it’s all real. The poverty and violence along the border is a way of life for the residents of the colonias. And a new development has been the rise of colonias farther north, outside Houston, Austin, and Dallas as Mexican workers have moved north. Colonias will soon spread to other parts of the US.

Do you see any solution to the quite dire immigration, and subsequent financial, issues facing Texas and California, and other border states?
Not in a presidential election year. The parties have staked out extreme positions to excite their bases, so the candidates are constrained to venture outside those positions. The solution is somewhere in the middle.

How aware is the average Texan of the brutality of life in the No Man’s Land between the border fence and the River? Is it something people know and care about?
Most Texans don’t know about the situation and, frankly, don’t care since most residents of the colonias are Mexicans residing there illegally.

Your Texan characters are at times quite scathing of their Californian neighbours. For those of us not familiar with American culture, what is the relationship between the two states? Does it go beyond the obvious Republican/Democrat divide and neighbourly rivalry?
There’s always been a liberal vs. conservative political divide between the two states, but with California experiencing terrible economic times and many California companies moving to Texas, which is doing much better in terms of jobs, the divide has become economic and much wider.

You’re very forthright, some might say cynical, about the role that campaign donors play in politics. Will this year’s presidential election be won by the team with the deepest pockets?
No, because both teams will spend an equal amount of money, estimated to be $1 billion each. I personally don’t care how much money someone gives to a political campaign so long as there is disclosure, but I do care that that money buys political favors, such as Wall Street enjoyed with lax regulation that led directly to the 2008 financial collapse.

Several of your characters comment, some jokingly, some seriously, that George W Bush’s record as president has meant that there will never be another Texan in the White House. Do you think someone like Bode Bonner (the main character in The Governor’s Wife) could change the public’s views of Texan politicians?
I don’t think so. The dislike of Bush in the blue states runs very deep. Also, in order to be elected state-wide in Texas, a politician must be a hard-core conservative, which makes it very difficult to move to a national stage.

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