My second book for Maggie's Southern Reading Challenge is The Legal Limit by Martin Clark.
In The Legal Limit, the main character, Mason Hunt, is a young attorney who finds his ascent from a miserable childhood with an abusive father to career success undermined by his complex relationship with his older brother, Gates, a former high school football hero turned bad. Mason knows Gates is poison but cannot forget the debt he owes his brother for protecting him from their abusive father. The inevitable trouble comes one drunken night while Mason is still in law school, when the Hunt boys, still in their early 20s, find themselves cornered by a drunken redneck on a deserted country road. Gates shoots and kills the man, and Mason takes the lead to protect Gates from the repercussions of his crime. (Apparently, this story is based on an actual crime from the 1980s).
While Gates’ life continues to spiral downward, Mason goes on to marry a beautiful artist and work as the district attorney in his home town of Stuart, in Patrick County. Unwilling to ever take responsibility for his actions, Hunt's wild ways land him in jail on a 44-year sentence for drug trafficking. He comes to resent his younger brother's refusal to use his power to spring him. Fraternal bitterness leads to blackmail, leaving Mason "morally hog-tied, an accessory after the fact, the entire damnable bundle laid at his feet by someone he loved dearly."
The theme of The Legal Limit deals more with good v. bad/moral vs. immoral, than with legal vs. illegal. The characters are complex - none are all good, or all bad. For most, right and wrong are situational determinations based on what will benefit that character the most at that time. On a side note, one character’s closeted homosexuality is awkwardly dealt with.
I liked this book, and Clark writes a good thriller, but the ending was a bit anti-climactic, and seemed to me to be a bit of a cop out. Clark may be on his way to being the next Grisham (and by that I mean Grisham in his heyday, not the watered down version we get today), but he’s not quite there yet. Nevertheless, I’ll definitely pick up his next book.