Cover image for The trial
The trial
Whitlow, Robert, 1954-
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Publication Information:
Nashville : Word Pub., [2001]

Physical Description:
ix, 445 pages ; 23 cm
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X Adult Fiction Central Library

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A lawyer ready to die takes one final case...the trial of his life.

Attorney Kent "Mac" MacClain has nothing left to live for. Nine years after the horrific accident that claimed the life of his wife and two sons, he's finally given up. His empty house is a mirror for his empty soul, it seems suicide is his only escape. And then the phone rings.

Angela Hightower, the beautiful heiress and daughter of the most powerful man in Dennison Springs, has been found dead at the bottom of a ravine. The accused killer, Peter Thomason, needs a lawyer. But Mac has come up against the Hightowers and their ruthless, high-powered lawyers before -- an encounter that left his practice and reputation reeling.

The evidence pointing to Thomason's guilt seems insurmountable. Is Mac defending an ingenious psychopath, or has Thomason been framed--possibly by a member of the victim's family? It comes down to one last trial. For Thomason, the opponent is the electric chair. For Mac, it is his own tormented past--a foe that will prove every bit as deadly.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

The Benrey team's Little White Lies is about Britisher Pippa Hunnechurch, a one-woman head-hunting firm who falls into the habit of embellishing resumes. It works, she finds, and she has a glib partner in crime, the overly ambitious Marsha Morgan. But then Marsha drowns, her death is followed by another, and all of a sudden the police are interested in Pippa's fibs. A Christian friend tells Pippa she has to come clean, but doing so will damage the prospects of her current clients, not to mention her own career, and thus Pippa faces the deepest crisis of her life in this likable, often witty tale. In The Maiden of Mayfair, first in her Victorian Tales of London series, Blackwell evokes Dickens rather than the Brontes in her portrait of young Sarah Matthews. Sarah is the ward of the St. Matthew Methodist Foundling Home for Girls in Drury Lane. Although the orphanage is grim, she's lucky, for abandoned children are everywhere and often perish in the streets. And soon Sarah is rescued by a rich widow who suspects Sarah may be her granddaughter, the daughter of her profligate son. Blackwell's Victorian romances can seem tame even for the Christian market, although her period detail is always fine, and this series looks to be livelier than some of its predecessors. Bly, the best-known writer of Christian westerns, has so many series currently under way that it's hard to keep up with them all. But his Belles of Lordsburg series, with its unusual setting and Bly's trademark wit in good form, begins well with The Senator's Other Daughter. Rebelling against the comfortable but stifling life imposed by her father, a U.S. senator, Grace Denison flees to a woebegone town in New Mexico, where she works as a late-night telegraph operator for the railroad. A local hero, Colt Parnall, courts her, and initially Grace thinks him too crude for her time. But once she climbs off her pedestal, Grace finds herself in Lordsburg, a town much in need of a woman's touch. And Colt starts to look better. Byers puns his way though a send-up of quantum physics assumptions that there is no causality in the universe with his clever, witty The Life of Your Time. The story, such as it is, concerns sixth-grader Percival Weckbaugh of Central City, Missouri, a polite young man in an impolite world. Percival begins to wonder about the meaning of life when a random number, whom Byers introduces as the character 1314, rebels against the forces of Blind Chance and Chaos and causes several coincidences. Each of these coincidences corresponds with crucial moments in the lives of Byers' several small-town characters, all of whom are lovingly drawn. These postmodern goings-on result in a sort of cross between Alan Lightman's Einstein's Dreams (1993) and Alice in Wonderland, as well as great satirical fun, in this highly original, nimble tour de force. Relying on scholarship to sort out the contradiction between John and the Synoptic Gospels, and making some educated guesses to fill gaps, Johnson tells in simple but affecting prose the straightforward story of Jesus the great teacher, The Gospel of Yeshua. Nothing is certain in this subgenre, but Johnson's can comfortably join similar efforts: Fulton Oursler's Greatest Story Ever Told (1949), Frank Slaughter's Crown and the Cross (1959), and more recently, Walter Wangerin's Book of God (1996). Another new series, Yukon Quest, begins with Peterson's Treasures of the North, set during the Alaskan gold rush of 1897. Because of the financial difficulties of her father, Chicago debutante Grace Hawkins is about to be forced into marriage with rich Martin Paxton. Martin is a villain so crudely drawn he might as well be called Snidely Whiplash, particularly when Grace heads north of the border, to Alaska, to escape him, and Martin follows. Grace's governess, Karen Pierce, is more convincing, as are Peterson's portraits of the Tlingit Indians, whose way of life is threatened by the gold rush. Peterson pairs with legal thriller writer Bell for City of Angels, first in the Shannon Saga series about Kathleen Shannon, an orphan with connections. She journeys to Los Angeles in 1903 to live with her rich aunt and, she hopes, study law. Male lawyers put up obstacles, but her investigative skills win their grudging admiration. Thomas' Singsation is the second entry of Warner Books' new Christian imprint, Walk Worthy. It's about the maturation of a young African American gospel singer, Deborah Anne Peterson. She's discovered in her backwater Georgia congregation by a hometown boy, Triage Blue, who's made good in the big world as a rapper and movie actor. Triage lines up Deborah as a backup singer with a rhythm-and-blues band, but Deborah knows her talent is for God's glory and is soon distressed by the compromises confronting her if she wants to succeed commercially. Thomas' story is entertaining but predictable, and never as convincing as Reid Arvin's Wind in the Wheat (1994), much the same story from the point of view of a young white singer. In The Trial, small-town attorney Kent ("Mac") MacClain, in despair over the death of his wife and two sons, is about to commit suicide. Then the phone rings, and he's handed a public defender's role in what is alleged to be the murder of a young woman from a prominent local family. The defendant is a drifter who can't remember what happened, but circumstances clearly point to his guilt. Mac is aided by a pretty out-of-town widow, a Christian psychologist with a son. She quickly goes to work both on Mac's head and on his heart in this seamless thriller from the reliable Whitlow.

Publisher's Weekly Review

Practicing attorney Whitlow follows up his successful debut novel, The List, with this Christian legal thriller about a small-town Georgia lawyer who lands a mysterious case. Called to defend a man accused of killing a wealthy Atlanta college student, the attorney, "Mac" MacClain, struggles to find the holes in what initially seems an airtight case for the prosecution. Whitlow intuitively understands the mandate to write about what he knows: the courtroom, the corner church, the small Southern community. Many of the book's details evoke a strong sense of place, and the courtroom scenes manage to maintain suspense without resorting to melodrama. The narrative falls a bit flat when Whitlow navigates Mac's emotional life. Like too many male characters in contemporary Christian fiction, Mac is a lonely widower (see also Frank Peretti's The Visitation, Ted Dekker's Heaven's Wager and, of course, the Left Behind series). Mac's wife and two sons perished years ago in a car accident with Mac at the wheel, and he struggles with grief and guilt. The novel opens with Mac sitting at his desk, trying to decide whether to kill himself with pills or a pistol. Whitlow does not sustain Mac's suicidal tendencies in a believable way; once Mac gets involved with the murder case, his energy drives it to its successful completion, making his automatic return to suicidal thoughts near the novel's end implausible. Despite this, Whitlow offers readers exciting courtroom drama and an authentic Southern sensibility. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved All rights reserved.



CHAPTER ONE: K ent "Mac" McClain checked the time on the grandfather clock that faced him impassively from the far corner of his walnut-paneled law office. The old clock was an antique inherited from his mother's side of the family and worked perfectly as long as the weights and chains were kept in proper tension. As a child, Mac would lie in bed and listen to the old clock's solemn announcement of each passing hour from its spot in the foyer of his parents' home. Many years later he cleared a place for it in the corner of his office; however, the clock's loud striking every quarter-hour disrupted meetings with clients, so Mac disabled the chiming mechanism. Now, except for a steady ticking, the ivory face with its large, black Roman numerals kept a silent, closed-lipped vigil. It was almost 5:00 p.m. In a few minutes the office staff would pass through the reception room door and go home for the weekend. He would be alone. His neatly combed brown hair was heavily streaked with gray, but Mac was in better than average physical shape for age fifty-six. Just under six feet, he only weighed twenty-five pounds more than when he graduated from law school at the University of Georgia, and he could still spend an afternoon hiking in the mountains east of Dennison Springs. But he couldn't take total credit for his good physical condition; it was genetic. He'd also inherited his father's dry wit and his mother's compassionate brown eyes. Mac still maintained his wit, now a facade he hid behind, but it had been a long time since he felt compassion for another's pain. He hadn't blinked away tears for someone else's sorrow in years. He heard the front door close and slowly poured a beer into the cold mug sitting on the corner of his desk. Except for Friday afternoons, he never drank at the office. Friday afternoons were different. On Fridays he didn't drink to mask the malaise he carefully concealed from the eyes of the world. Rather, he renewed a ritual from a happier time, a thirty-five-year-old tradition begun on crisp autumn Fridays during college days in Athens, Georgia. Mac lived in a fraternity house his senior year, and as soon as classes were finished for the week, he would take an iced mug from the refrigerator, carefully pour a beer, sit on the front porch in a rocking chair, and watch the traffic go by on Milledge Avenue. But today was different. Today was no celebration. His heart beating a little faster than normal, he opened the bottom left drawer of his desk and took out the Colt .45 pistol issued to his father during World War II. At the beginning of the war, the standard side arm for military officers was a six-shot Smith and Wesson .38 revolver, but the ferocity of the Japanese soldiers in the Pacific forced the American military to rethink its strategy. In close combat, a .38-caliber shell might wound a charging infantryman, but it did not have sufficient mass to knock him down. The arms makers answered with a more potent weapon, and when Mac's father made the shift from head of the trust department for a local bank to captain in the U.S. Army, he acquired the drab olive weapon that now rested on his son's desk. Mac snapped out the clip. One by one, he extracted the bullets and lined them up like polished sentries on the edge of the dark wood. Bullets were small objects that could have devastating and deadly effect, especially when fired directly into the human skull at close range. Opening the narrow middle drawer of the desk, he took out a bottle of prescription pain pills. In some ways, pills and bullets were remarkably similar. Of course, the pills were intended to relieve pain; bullets were designed to inflict it. But for Mac's purposes, bullets or pills would serve the same purpose-to end his suffering, once and for all. Mac shook the bottle. It was full. How many of the potent pain relievers would it take? Half a bottle? Three-quarters? It wouldn't be that difficult to take them all. And then what would happen? Dizziness? Sleepiness? Nothingness? Mac had not been able to decide which would be the best method of death-bullet or pill. Each had its advantages. There was something masculine about a bullet to the brain. Messy, but manly. Pills were more suitable for Hollywood starlets who discovered that bright lights and fame were just another path into the black hole of depression and despair. But pills were tidy; no hair need be disturbed, and whoever found him wouldn't have to deal with a horrific death scene. Mac's sense of decency and decorum argued for the pain relievers. His desire for swift certainty drew him toward one of the shiny metal sentinels. The issue remained undecided. The phone on his desk buzzed. Startled, he set down the pill bottle, knocking over some of the bullets. "Who is it?" he barked into the receiver. "Judge Danielson on line one," his secretary answered. Stepping back from the edge of the cliff, Mac brushed the bullets into his hand. "I'll take it, Judy. I thought you'd gone home." "I wanted to finish the first draft of the Morgan brief. I'll be going in a few minutes. Have a good weekend." "Uh, thanks. You, too." Mac punched the phone button. "Hello, Judge." "Glad I caught you before you started your weekend. Do you still have a cold one every Friday?" "I'm looking at it as we speak." Mac held the phone to his ear with his shoulder, snapped the clip back into the gun, and returned it to its place in the desk drawer. "Come over to the courthouse," the judge said. "I need to talk to you." "What is it?" he asked. "I'm off duty." "Just come. I'll explain when you get here." "Can it wait until Monday?" "No," the judge said simply. Mac sighed. "Give me five minutes." "Thanks. See you then." Mac put the phone receiver back in its cradle. His hands slightly sweaty, he held the pill bottle up between his fingers. He resented the interruption of the judge's call. He was getting closer to a verdict in the hidden trial raging within the dark brooding of his soul. Life or death. Bullet or pill. He knew he didn't have to go to the courthouse; he could continue the secret trial interrupted by the judge's call. But the spell was broken; the jury deciding his fate would have to continue its deliberations at a later date. Mac buttoned the top button on his shirt and straightened his silk tie. Grabbing a blank yellow legal pad, he locked the front door of the small, red-brick house he'd converted into an attractive law office and began the short walk to the courthouse. One of the advantages of practicing law in a town like Dennison Springs was convenience. The courthouse, the offices of the three major law firms, and two of the main banks were all close-by. Unless it was raining or bitter cold, he would often hand-deliver legal papers or go to the bank to make a deposit as an excuse to take a walk. Mac knew every tree, stray blade of grass, and crack in the sidewalk along the way. He crossed the street and climbed the wide steps of the Echota County Courthouse. Built as a project of the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression, the large, square, red-brick building with its silver domed roof would not win any architectural awards, but it had a certain crude charm. Surrounded on three sides by long rows of crepe myrtles, it was wreathed in purple for a few glorious months in late summer. The ground floor contained the office for the clerk of court, the probate judge, and a large vault where the deed records were stored. Except when he had to go to the clerk's office to file papers, Mac rarely stayed on the first level of the building. Climbing the worn steps, he went upstairs to the main courtroom with its high ceiling and tall windows that provided a spectacular view of the southern Appalachians. Mac didn't need to "See Rock City," the mountaintop tourist trap in Chattanooga. He could take in the panorama of the mountains free of charge every time he went to court. During the past thirty years, he had witnessed every nuance of the changing seasons on the distant hills from the courtroom vantage point. This afternoon, the pale yellows, oranges, and reds of mid-October dominated the view. The courtroom was laid out like a miniamphitheater. The floor sloped gradually downward from the back of the room to a level area where the jury box directly faced the elevated judge's bench and witness stand. When trying a case, the lawyers sat on opposite sides of the jury, and everybody had a clear view of those called to testify. Judge William L. Danielson was three years younger than Mac. Short and stocky, he was raised on a pecan farm in middle Georgia and moved to Dennison Springs after graduating from Mercer Law School in Macon. For the next fifteen years, he practiced corporate and commercial law as an associate and partner with one of the "big three," the law firms in town with more than five attorneys. During his years in private practice, Bill Danielson and Mac only squared off in court on one occasion. Mac won. Judge Danielson's chambers were to the right of the bench where he presided. Mac walked into the office suite and knocked on the wooden frame of the open door. "Come in and have a seat, Mac." The judge motioned toward a pair of wooden armchairs across from his light-colored oak desk. "I need your help." Mac sat and waited. Holding up a single sheet of paper, the judge said, "I'll get to the point. This is an order appointing you to represent Peter Thomason." Mac's jaw dropped. "What! I haven't tried a major criminal case in years." "I have a good reason-" "Gene Nelson is public defender," Mac interrupted. "He handles these types of cases." "Take it easy," the judge lifted his hand. "Gene called me an hour ago. He has a conflict. The pathologist from Atlanta who tested the defendant's blood for drugs is Gene's new brother-in-law. The man is certain to testify as an expert witness and will have to be cross-examined by Thomason's lawyer. If there is a conviction, I can't risk a habeas corpus from a smarty-pants lawyer down the road based on ineffective assistance of counsel." "But why me?" Mac asked, slumping back in his chair. "Because it involves the Hightower family," the judge said slowly. "Who else could do it?" Mac didn't answer. Peter Thomason was charged with murder. But it wasn't a sordid domestic killing or the result of a botched drug deal. The victim was nineteen-year-old Angela Hightower, the only child of Alexander and Sarah Hightower, the most influential family in Dennison Springs. A friend of Mac's once suggested that the Echota County Chamber of Commerce should sell bumper stickers that read, "Dennison Springs, Georgia. Owned and Operated by Hightower & Co." Alex Hightower's ancestors were among the first settlers in the area after Andrew Jackson ordered the U.S. Army to remove the Cherokee Indians from northwest Georgia and march them along the "Trail of Tears" to Oklahoma in the 1830s. By 1880, the Hightower family had built the first textile mill, chartered the first bank, and controlled the First Methodist Church. During the next hundred years, their economic interests expanded beyond the boundaries of Dennison Springs, and the family moved seventy-five miles south to Atlanta. But they kept strong ties to the area and spent a month each summer at the family estate on the edge of town. Hightower money was the backbone of several major business ventures in the area, and no local lawyer in his right mind did anything to antagonize them. No lawyer, that is, except Mac. "I see," Mac said. "You don't know a young lawyer who would take the case without caring about the consequences?" "Do you?" the judge responded. Mac mentally ran down the list of possibilities and shook his head. "None with any criminal defense experience." "I can't appoint someone who's handled a few nolo pleas in traffic court to a murder case." Mac shrugged. "It's been awhile. The last major criminal case I handled was-" "State versus Jefferson," the judge interrupted. "Three and a half years ago. You tried the case for three days to a hung jury. The D.A.'s office decided to nol-pros the charges and turn him loose." Mac suppressed a slight smile. "You didn't think he was guilty, either, did you?" "No comment. My point is that under the Sixth Amendment Thomason deserves quality representation." "And you don't want to jeopardize another young lawyer's career by asking him to defend the man who may have murdered the Hightowers' daughter." "Right." The judge leaned forward and picked up the order. "Even though you're an officer of the court, I'm not going to make you do this." Mac raised his eyebrows. "I can refuse?" "Yes. Consider it over the weekend and call me Monday morning." "Does Thomason know about the conflict of interest?" "Gene Nelson is going to talk to him this evening." "Fair enough." Mac got up to leave. "I'll let you know first thing on Monday." "One other matter," the judge said. "I understand Alex Hightower has hired Joe Whetstone from Atlanta to act as special prosecutor." "Really? Bringing in the big guns for the execution." "It will be a challenge." "And you think I want a challenge?" Mac asked. The judge shook his head. "You don't have to prove anything to me, Mac." Mac stepped to the open door. "Will the county pay for an investigator and expert witnesses?" "Anything within reason. I'll try to get it for you." Mac walked down the steps of the courthouse. He'd read articles about the murder in the local newspaper. It would be a difficult case to handle. The Hightowers would spare no expense to obtain a conviction. Hiring Joe Whetstone as special prosecutor was just one step. The Atlanta lawyer would be supported by a cadre of associates, an army of paralegals, and the best investigators and expert witnesses money could buy. Forgetting about the bullets, the pills, and his beer, he crossed the street. With each step, the secret, dark thoughts of his own death retreated. Thoughts about another man whose life hung in the balance before the eyes of everyone in Echota County took their place. Excerpted from The Trial by Robert Whitlow All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.