The moment I picked up this book and started reading, one thing struck me immediately: this is a work of serious quality, by an author of real professional pedigree. As well as being a lawyer, George Critchlow is an outstanding writer, with a tremendous poetry to his work.
Be aware, his work might be considered subjective, in favour of a man who is clearly his dear friend, as well as skewed by George’s uncommon profession, as a liberally oriented defence and human rights lawyer. This is not a passive read; it invites – in fact, demands – a response. It is candid; no whitewashing is done of Michael’s crimes, which are truly heinous, and at times genuinely disturbing. But, it is no surprise when this book leans with increasing weight in the direction of white privilege, racism and an overall indictment of social injustice in America, so it may not suit all tastes. Whilst there is undoubtedly genuine reason in Michael’s life for the analyzing of racial inequality as a factor, and additionally there is no doubt of the lifer’s rehabilitation and remorse, how you view George’s campaign for his parole will likely depend on your opinion of what should constitute the overall objective of lifelong incarceration: rehabilitation, public safety or justice for the victims. In essence, George’s book is a vivid depiction of the contrast between Michael’s life of hardship and George’s of privilege. But, while his underlying implication is that this is white privilege, many readers will look at the author’s background and consider it just privilege, plain and simple. There will therefore be some who take genuine umbrage at the book’s narrative that George is serving such a long sentence because of an element of institutional racism in society; many will be of the simple opinion that Michael is a lifer because of the horrific and terrorizing nature of his crimes, none less so than readers who have found themselves victims of violent crime. To summarize, this is a provocative book, which will likely elicit an emotive response from those at both ends of the left/right spectrum, so don’t be surprised by this. I would even go as far as to say if you move toward the right on the subject of criminal justice, it may be best not to read it, as there is probably little in the book which will change your mind.
Rhetoric aside, though, it is tremendous piece of work by George Critchlow, providing a genuinely fascinating insight into the work of the defence lawyer in the United States, and the professional expertise with which everyone involved in the system carries out their work. As somebody who worked in the British system for several years, one thing I certainly conclude from reading this book is that American criminal justice and justice generally are very different things, whichever side you’re on. As far as a review of the book goes, though, The Lifer and the Lawyer is outstanding, by a legal and literary professional of the very highest quality.
In : Book Reviews
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