Jeff Stetson, Author . Warner $24 (390p) ISBN 978-0-446-52706-4

Stetson's first novel gets off to a provocative start: in contemporary Mississippi, charismatic African-American professor Martin Matheson polarizes students and the larger Jackson, Miss., community with his incendiary lectures about lynchings and other atrocities inflicted by local whites upon local blacks at the height of the struggle for civil rights. The inclusion of graphic photos in the lectures, as well as the names and addresses of the unpunished perpetrators, sparks controversy and a spate of revenge killings of the identified men. On this riveting premise, Stetson builds a thriller cum social commentary cum character study, anchored in a courtroom drama. In this, the book resembles nothing so much as a (very good) episode of Law & Order , with a controversial issue depicted in broad, compelling strokes and examined from a number of vantage points. Because blood evidence links Matheson to the killing of unrepentant racist Earvin Cooper, he's tried not for inciting murder (as seems likely) but for murder itself. Prosecuting Matheson is a meticulous and well-respected black deputy district attorney, James Reynolds, who, caught in the middle of the larger ethical debate, becomes the novel's moral center. Todd Miller, venerable white liberal past his courtroom prime, defends Matheson, who takes the strategic lead in his defense. Miller and Reynolds have often faced each other before, but never in a case like this. Reynolds has a rough time in court, and a rougher one outside, under siege for the first time in his life by members of the black community. Stetson's sharp storytelling pushes buttons as skillfully as Matheson's lectures in this promising debut. (July 7)

Reviewed on: 04/26/2004
Release date: 07/01/2004
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