Jonathan Harr - "A Civil Action"
Century (0 7126 7662 7) £15.99
A Civil Action is a tense, absorbing and frustrating journey through the Byzantine American judicial system. Against his better judgement successful compensation lawyer Jan Schlichtmann gets his firm involved in the "black hole" of the Woburn Case. A cluster of leukaemia cases is linked to the poisoning of the towns water supply. Initial examination of the evidence indicates that factory sites, owned by two of the largest industrial corporations in the USA, are the sources of the contamination. All the lawyers approached by the bereaved families see the case as a "potential goldmine" - but can it be proved according to the rules of evidence?
Schlichtmann cannot help himself - the potential is too great. He is motivated by "Pride, greed, ambition. Getting rich by doing good", and the whole of the subsequent events are then driven by money. The holy grail of a large compensation award beckons on the practice, yet always appears out of reach. The amounts involved could be astronomical, with the successful attorney receiving up to 40% of the award plus costs. On the other hand, the enormous costs involved in collating the mountain of evidence threaten to tip the balance into bankruptcy.
This is a ruthless game played the American way. The overweening lawyers decision to fight the case leads to an epic struggle against the incompetence, chicanery and obstruction of the judicial system. The protagonists perception of the world becomes increasingly governed by paranoia, by good and bad omens and by the tiniest inflexions in the voice of the outrageous judge Skinner. An inconsequential romance between a fellow lawyer who sees Schlichtmann as a potential soulmate sits uneasily with the bizarre and all encompassing world of the case. At what point does the battle become a lost cause? Schlichtmann reflects, "If life was black and white and a sign came out and said "Okay, hero time", then everybody would do the right thing. But theres never a sign. You never know." (J.R.C.)
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