A true work of literature is distinct from a purely entertaining piece of writing by its counterpoints. Usually, it is a combination of fine prose, suspense, philosophical thought and moral dilemmas, exacerbated by tough choices. Sometimes they leave no space for an acceptable compromise. All of these must be narrated as a highly entertaining story, which is the essence of contemporary novel. Eric Matheny’s, The Victim, has it all.
It is quite rare to find such a book in a humongous pile of publications produced by an independent press. With hundreds of thousands of new titles flooding the market every year, it is a prodigious task to discover the worthy ones. Luckily, I came across The Victim, by Eric Matheny. Its plot engrossed me with its dynamics and the vivid liveliness of the novel’s characters, all of them controversial at best. But this is what real life is about: deep inside, none of us is a pure angel or devil, perhaps with a few rare exceptions. And more so when we are confronted with a legal system.
While reading the book, I soon realized that it was written by a lawyer, with a deep theoretical knowledge of and profound practical experience in all legal matters, including investigation, court proceedings, penitentiary rules, and other activities. It shows in colorful description of court battles, discussions in lawyers’ offices, and actions outside the frame of the legal system. At times I caught myself thinking that I was reading a novel by John Grisham or Mike Connelly. Indeed, when I finished reading, I found a short author’s biography, confirming my guess at his profession.
As with most crime fiction, this novel begins with crime. It was not a premeditated crime, committed for selfish purpose. Rather, it was an impulse of moment reaction from the protagonist – Anton – to eliminate evidence of a tragic accident that he caused. He was young then, with a promising career in the years to come. It seemed to him then that all possible traces of the crime had been thoroughly wiped out. As often happens in reality, the case was closed due to a lack of evidence of foul play. Accidents happen. The only problem for Anton was his own conscience.
Years passed by. He became a lawyer, with a good family life – though not without problems – and successful career, which was gathering speed. But the feeling of guilt, which haunted him since the accident, morphed into a terrible moral dilemma when he knew that not all traces of his crime had disappeared. Defending his clients became practically impossible. The solution to moral dilemma was admission of the crime. The consequence of this was obvious: ruined career, years in prison, ruined life. Defending himself was a possibility but…
The novel is saturated with court drama, intense emotions, and a clash of interests and personalities. Characters in the novel live their own life, with peculiarities of their behavior, manners, and speech. For example, this is how one of his clients, a hardened criminal named Quincy, speaks in prison: “That lying’ ass, bitch-ass, punk-ass cracker! I done to my people git me a paid lawyer and this bitch says I should hung myself? …. No way, ain’t no cracker-ass lawyer gonna cook my goose.”
I found this novel a highly entertaining read. I give it 4 stars.