Readers often wonder how novelists come up with ideas for their books. For Joey Hartstone, that moment came while he was having drinks with a good friend, Nathan Speed, an intellectual property attorney from Boston. Speed told Hartstone that his law practice frequently took him to the small town of Marshall, Texas, where the federal courthouse for the Eastern District of Texas had become known for speedy trials and huge payouts in patent cases. That nugget inspired The Local, Harstone’s debut legal thriller which is sure to take its place alongside the best from those using the courtroom as a backdrop for crime, including murder.
Unlike bestselling authors John Grisham and Scott Turow, Hartstone is not a lawyer. But he has written two of TV’s most gripping legal thrillers – CBS’s streaming The Good Fight starring Christine Baranski, and Showtime’s Your Honor starring Bryan Cranston. His other major screen credits include LBJ and Shock and Awe. What’s essential for crafting a compelling thriller is a solid storyline, an intriguing plot, and interesting, multi-faceted characters who engage the reader. The Local has all that and more.
Joey Hartstone (Photo Credit Dennis Kwan)
The most powerful legal figure in Marshall is U.S. District Court Judge Gerald Gardner who, after he was appointed to the bench, overhauled the EDTX so that patent cases would last no more than five days, rather than weeks or months, which had been the norm. But what really opened the gates was a specific case where, after a four-day trial, the jury awarded a patent holder $70.2 million in damages. After that, there was a stampede to Marshall and Gardner’s docket was flooded with patent cases.
Most of the attorneys who come to Marshall are, like Hartstone’s friend, Speed, from major law firms, mostly in New York City and California, so signing on local counsel becomes not only required, but essential to winning over those who will sit on a jury. James Euchre is one of a handful of Marshall lawyers frequently sought out to work with the out-of-towners.
Euchre is just finishing up his closing for a case when he sees a familiar face in the rear of the courtroom, Abraham Rabinowitz, a partner in the Manhattan-based firm of Gordon & Greene. “Honest Abe” is in Marshall with the firm’s newest partner, Layla Stills, a former prosecutor, now specializing in patent cases. Their client, Amir Zawar, created a company called Medallion, a rideshare app, that sounds similar to CURB, allowing passengers to book a taxi without hailing one on the street.
Zawar’s father who came to the U.S. from Pakistan, worked as a cab driver, and lost all his savings when he used a predator loan company to purchase his taxi’s medallion, required to operate a cab in New York. Amir launched Medallion to honor his father and help other drivers. Astral, a software company that designed a navigation program, is suing Medallion for patent infringement. Euchre agrees to represent Amir and, along with Abe and Layla, attends an eligibility hearing in Judge Gardner’s courtroom.
Abe has filed a motion to dismiss the suit, which Judge Gardner denies, sending the case to trial. Amir is irate and lashes out at the judge, telling him to “go to hell.” He’s found in contempt and ordered to pay a fine. When Euchre tries to calm him down, Amir strikes him. The bailiff cuffs him and as he’s taken out of the courtroom, his last words, seemingly directed at the judge are: “I’ll fucking kill you.” It’s no surprise that when Judge Gardner is found dead in the courthouse’s parking lot, his throat slit, that Amir is arrested for the murder.
Euchre’s father was perhaps the state’s best know criminal lawyer. But the two were not close. Instead, Judge Gardner became for Euchre a mentor and a substitute father. Representing the man who possibly killed the judge he loved creates a huge conflict for Euchre. Amir declares he’s innocent and, if he is, then Euchre owes it to the judge to find the real killer. Still, Amir is not always honest with Euchre and Layla. Is he truly innocent? Or is Euchre working to free a killer?
Hartstone nails the courtroom scenes, but what truly drives the story are the characters, particularly Euchre. He’s got baggage to spare, quirks galore, but he’s smart and cares about the law and justice. He can take his place alongside Grisham’s Jake Brigance and Michael Connelly’s Mickey Haller aka, The Lincoln Lawyer. And with Hartstone’s experience for turning out a compelling screenplay, we look forward to The Local on a big or small screen sometime soon. And, of course, many more thrillers featuring Euchre.
Top Bigstock photo: Marshall, Texas: The Harrison County Courthouse