Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Gideon's Children: A Book Review

Howard G. Franklin’s first novel, Gideon’s Children, tells the story of Matt Harris, a young attorney assigned to a small public defender’s office in the late 1960s. From day one, Matt—who’s never even tried a case before—finds himself immersed in an all-out war, fighting with his co-workers for their clients’ rights while struggling to handle a staggering case load.

Matt quickly learns what his poor, mostly minority clients are up against: all-white juries, unethical judges, biased prosecutors, and corrupt police officers. In short, they don’t stand a chance. Or they wouldn’t without Matt, whose deep-rooted sense of right and wrong leads him to do everything in his power to ensure his clients get fair trials, even risking his own freedom to do what he believes is right.

Then, Matt and his fellow PDs hatch a risky plan to gain respect for themselves and, more importantly, fair shakes their clients. Will their plan work? Are they risking their careers? And can they get at least some form of justice for their clients in a world that seems anything but?

Gideon’s Children is fiction but clearly parallels Franklin’s own experiences as a Deputy Public Defender in Los Angeles County in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Franklin brings to life a period that many have argued was the most tumultuous in American history—he sings the songs of the time, watches the television programs of the time, and voices the concerns of many Americans of the time. He tackles race, class, and socioeconomic issues that persist today, nearly 50 years later. And Gideon’s Children reminds us of the continued struggles of public defenders, who are forced to juggle too many cases with too few resources, and their clients, who, too often, still face justice systems that seem stacked against them.

Gideon’s Children is available today through Chamberlain Press.

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