Cleverly plotted, carefully nuanced, and immensely readable… A page-turner.
Star and Zenko find themselves fighting the Durham, N.C. criminal justice system to save an innocent undocumented Salvadoran refugee from life imprisonment in Charns’s latest, an utterly engrossing courtroom drama. When sixteen-year-old José Martinez fled El Salvador, he had one thing on his mind: to get away from the infamous criminal gang Barrio 18 who tried to behead him once. Now at thirty, José is facing the possibility of life imprisonment for a heinous crime. Star Gwiazda and Zenko Luczek, José’s court-appointed lawyers, are determined to get justice for José. But getting a fair trial for their client is not as easy as it seems. Zenko and Star’s journey to get justice for José moves by leaps and bounds, frequently bolstered by intriguing courtroom tactics and drama. The narrative takes several unexpected twists, keeping the pages turning. A tightly written action set piece at midpoint, in which Zenko and Star come across potentially case-altering evidence raises the stakes, and Charns keeps the action going as he moves on to an unexpected, complex finish. Charns has obvious fun with his characterization: both Star and Zenko are thoroughly authentic and a winning pair of protagonists. Readers will feel they know them inside and out. Amid the issues concerning the plight of undocumented refugees, notorious El Salvador gang war, the austerity of case law, and the tangles of legal politics (corrupt judiciary, intricacies and loopholes of law), Charns never loses sight of the central theme of his story, with a conclusion that sees the justice delivered. Charns deserves a wider readership.
By Alex Charns