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On the defensive
Categories: Books, Utrinque Paratus

Latest Jackie Flowers thriller jabs at justices, journalists

By Leigh E. Rich

Extreme Indifference
By Stephanie Kane
November 2003
304 pages

Criminal defense attorney Jackie Flowers has little going for her.

She left her job at the Public Defender’s office amidst scandal, lost her boyfriend of three years, can’t make the rent on her Victorian-era office—rife with stains and leaks and a copier machine that won’t cooperate—and is defending a client she loathes.

And he’s not just any client. The defense of Glenn Ballard, a federal judge who’s next in line for appointment to the Tenth Circuit, has been scoped in the nation’s talk show crossfire—a type of national voyeurism Colorado knows all too well. There’s much to lose for all involved, when Ballard, reputed for his strict sentences and lack of levity on the bench, is accused of torturing and murdering a University of Colorado coed at a cabin he owns in Left Hand Canyon.

With the judge’s U.S. Marshals-issued handcuffs found on the victim, Amy Lynch—the daughter of a prominent Denver businessman—and a videotape placing both Ballard and Amy at the scene of the heinous crime, Jackie is most certainly swimming against the media-driven mainstream. But that’s not her biggest problem.

From the outset, Jackie and Ballard’s lawyer-client relationship is strained at best, with Ballard seemingly refusing to allow Jackie to prepare a defense on anything other than his impeccable—if indifferent—reputation on the bench. What’s more, Ballard is Jackie’s former law-school professor, who rather enjoyed failing her in Criminal Procedure so many years ago. While Ballard once admonished Jackie that only “the best and the brightest students can be expected to compete” and excel in law school, Jackie’s failing grade was due only to her well guarded Achilles heel—her dyslexia.

Surveying the odd assortment of characters in Extreme Indifference—from a diminutive repeat arsonist to a cigarillo-smoking, fast-thinking female private investigator—Jackie is not alone in possessing a fatal flaw. She is, however, perhaps the only one who has turned such a weakness into a strength.

This is the lesson to be learned in this second Jackie Flowers novel by Denver author and former defense attorney Stephanie Kane. Refreshingly, Kane doesn’t offer idealized legal eagles akin to “Law and Order” or “The Practice.” And no legal pundit is safe from Kane’s wry wit.

A bit naive, even for a criminal defender, Jackie can’t comprehend the eminent Ballard being mixed up in such sexual perversion. But her colleagues retort, “When’s the last time you appeared in federal court?” when she pleads that a United States District Judge isn’t capable of such sadism.

The district attorney’s team is painted as equally fallible. As Jackie sits in the deputy ADA’s shoestring office, she takes in the room’s bleakness unsuccessfully hidden beneath the family photos and an abstract print of a cabin in the woods: “His gaze flitted to the art print and Jackie suddenly realized he’d hung it too close to his desk to see the cabin or the woods. Its appeal could only lie in a multiplicity of tiny squares that added up to nothing. How like a prosecutor to find comfort in that!”

But this is Jackie’s saving grace—the ability to put together and rearrange a multitude of fragments and pixels and discern the images hidden in such nothingness.

While Ballard is burdened by his hubris, Amy Lynch’s father his obsessive need for control, ADA Phyllis Klein a desire to salvage her professional reputation via a well plotted revenge, and public relations guru Whitney Grais an ambition to manipulate them all, Jackie’s dyslexia is not her demise.

Though Jackie silently berates herself for her inability to drive from Denver to Boulder without a mental meltdown and, when asked what makes her unique, she thinks, “For starters, I can’t read,” Kane depicts her unlikely heroine as a modern-day Alice magnified on the other side of the looking glass.

Running as fast as she can just to stay in one place, Jackie “not only survived but actually thrived in law school,” despite the fact that sentences often are “a frustrating series of disconnected symbols whose meaning she was powerless to decode.”

But she has a “tolerance for incomprehension” that besets her unpolished talents that have been overlooked both by Ballard and the highly prized Seventeenth Street law firms.

And in court, Jackie shines. Kane doesn’t give her protagonist much time before the bar and readers must anticipate the criminal defender in action, but Ballard’s trial is a legal and technical page-turner worth the wait.

Extreme Indifference is, after all, Jackie’s story, not Ballard’s. Though Ballard’s character provides a psychological cameo into the U.S. justice system—as he conceitedly tells one reporter, “The president serves until the next election. I am appointed for life”—Kane’s well crafted message is that what isn’t there is sometimes more important than what is.

“What could be more devastating than being denied praise for a job well done,” she writes, “and being forever damned by your weakness?”

Rich, L. E. (2003, November 11). On the defensive: Latest Jackie Flowers thriller jabs at justices, journalists. Leigh Rich Freelance: five2seven.

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