What Seems True
by James Garrison
TouchPoint Press

"I liked being a lawyer. I loved it. It wasn’t the money, though that was a pleasant byproduct. It was a contest of wit and words. The warp and woof of The Law. The thrill and excitement of battle. The fight to win."

Dan Esperson, a company lawyer living in the Houston area, investigates the murder of a refinery's first black supervisor. The victim, a man named Billy Graham, has been shot five times. At first, the killing looks like a simple case of robbery. But things grow complicated when Sheila Mills, a beautiful administrative assistant with whom Esperson is having an affair, confesses to having conspired to kill Graham at the behest of her husband. Meanwhile, a union strike is threatening to turn violent, and Esperson's marriage is unraveling. His life is further endangered when he comes into possession of a tape that may incriminate the suspects.

Garrison's evocation of a bygone era—the Texas Gulf Coast in the waning days of the Carter administration—powerfully grounds what could have been a run-of-the-mill legal thriller. The novel's sense of place—its coastal plains dotted with live oaks and pecan trees with oil refineries belching black smoke into the humid air—and in-depth knowledge of legal maneuvering lend the story a credibility that makes its pulpier elements compelling.

The racism and misogyny of that era are menacingly embodied in a seedy old Texas Ranger with a penchant for barstool philosophizing. However, the book's sympathies clearly lie with the women and people of color who attempt to advance in an unjust system. The quality of the prose is uneven at times, but the moral dilemmas faced by the protagonist and the increasingly tangled nature of the relationships keep the story consistently involving. The latter half of the book effectively conjures the feeling of a noir novel as Esperson questions whether he's really being threatened or merely lapsing into paranoia. Yet Garrison leavens the bleakness with moments of genuine warmth and humor that insert a note of hope in the closing chapters.

Garrison's The Safecracker was a 2020 Eric Hoffer Book Award Category Finalist.

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