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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
by Mark Gimenez
Published by Hachette