What if

Maybe in another life, I would be a photographer, a columnist or work in some publishing house. There used to be a good part of my work that I had enjoyed and I no longer recall what they were as we navigate  the  bureaucratic maze where efficacy is supposedly driven by key performance index when there is hardly any productivity. The operation of the law is influenced by social-economic factors and dynamics from various forces, ultimately it is perfunctory and a matter of academic exercise and legal fiction. Legal practice  is business, whether big, medium or small. So yes if there were a parallel universe, please take me there. I know there is no perfect package for life, I do reckon with the choices I have made. If you like challenges, legal work  can  bring excitement and set your adrenalin juice charging and you do need a minimum amount of creativity to look outside the problems at hand. But then in general law is related to the mechanics of the economy and its application will be on the machinery that is in place and the humans involved in dispensing justice and implementing it.

No matter what you do and where you have landed yourself in , it is about who you are, things you value and what you are made of. 

Stories about triumphs over evil are always a pick me up. I recently read two novels that I would very much have liked to read in one instead of two or three sittings. They are Big Law by Ron Liebman and Tinhead City KL by Stuart Danker.

Big Law  is a roman à clef  based on personal experience of Ron Liebman who had an impressive legal career. He has been a law clerk to a federal judge, an assistant U.S. Attorney, partner in a boutique litigation law firm, and a senior partner in one of America’s top law firms.

In the novel, Carney Blake, thirty-seven years old,  is a young partner at  Dunn & Sullivan, one of New York’s most prestigious law firms. Dunn & Sullivan is a BigLaw firm located in the spanking new glass and steel tower stuck smack in the middle of Times Square. in Manhattan. There are  over twenty-five hundred lawyers on the payroll and another three thousand staff employees. In his full eight years as an associate and a second year as a newly minted partner, Carney has represented dozens of high-profile clients.  One day he is suddenly summoned by his firm’s chairman, Carl Smith who has asked him to represent the plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit involving an explosion in a factory in India. It is a major case of the firm and before long Carney and his associates discover corruption and maliciously orchestrated schemes that go straight to the top of the firm. The defendant is General Renewable Energy (GRE). When GRE’s plant in the Assam region of India blew up, many were killed due to delayed employee evacuation. GRE settled claims for environmental damage brought by the Indian government but its compensation offers to its workmen were far less generous. One young Indian lawyer named Dipak Singh took on the case for the workers and families. He managed to get judgment for two and a half billion dollars. There were rumours about strong ties between the judge and the powerful Singh family. GRE refused to pay up and started investigating into how the case ended as it had. When company assets in the U.S. and elsewhere had to be seized by the judgment plaintiffs to satisfy the judgment sum, Dipak Singh needed a U.S. law firm and Dunn & Sullivan were engaged. Carney found out that GRE had retained Peter Moss who had a vengeful vendetta against Dunn & Sullivan and their chairman, Carl Smith.

The novel is narrated in the Carney’s voice who is writing a memoir. Carney learns  about Peter Moss’s plan to destroy Carl’s firm when he is on the case. Peter and Carl were once colleagues at Dunn & Sullivan and the partners at the time were amused by their heavy competition when they were both vying for a hard-to-get  partnership at the firm.

Peter Moss and Carl Smith are both cold blooded. Peter’s madness and narcissism does not stop at taking over Dunn & Sullivan. He has a son who lacks a killer instinct and will disappoint him. Despite his love for  his son, Josh, ‘he simply cannot help relegating Josh to some lesser role in the world’s order’. Carl is going through a divorce and his wife, Polly has hired  Iván Escobar, who is ‘ known as “Iván the Impaler” for his cutthroat tactics, his take-no-prisoners behaviour’. All these nasty lawyers who have made it to where they are appear to wear highly tailored suits. In Carney’s voice,

As far as Peter was concerned, lawyering was made up of a mix of ingredients. Like a potent drink. Understanding the law, knowing how to use the law , how to argue it when necessary –all were part of the mix. So were assertiveness, aggression, creativity. Put all that into a cocktail shaker. Add a splash of deviousness. Shake and pour. There you go.

  To Peter, putting those two congressmen in that goose blind was actually the essence of lawyering. So was the way he had positioned the GRE case, something he thought of more as an offensive weapon than a lawsuit.

In Big Law, the nasty lawyers are  portrayed as mercenary, cunning and unscrupulous. There are also the  smart and ethical lawyers like Carney who cares about his brother and alcoholic father, Jeremy Lichtman and Gloria, the associates who assist Carney on the case and Dianne who is dating Carney. Good characterisation of Judge  Brown and Anka  Stankowski, another senior partner in the firm. Carl is keeping him at arm’s length so he turns to Anka when the Peter is proving to be formidable  and vicious opponent. Anka is  sixty- eight years old, described as  having  ‘her meaty fist around one of those thirty-one-ounce Starbucks Trenta iced coffees’. In Carney’s narratives, Anka  ‘was  known in the firm’s hallways as “ Jabba the Hutt” and  ‘Judge Brown looked like a judge. She was in her mid-forties, dark-skinned, with stern, unattractive features, eyeglasses even your grandmother wouldn’t wear, and a hairdo like a helmet.  She had on a necklace of white pearls pulled out  over her judicial robe.’

Big Law is a captivating tale that you want to devour in one sitting. Its style of writing is straightforward, fast-moving and concise.

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Tinhead City, KL written by Stuart Danker is a fast-paced cyberpunk dystopian thriller set in Kuala Lumpur. From the fast- moving narratives, you feel a sense of doom yet amidst the chaos and danger, there lie flashes of hope and grit. Imagine a city where policing is no longer in the realm of humans but Justicars. A Justicar is ‘ colloquially known as a tinhead – that thing sat motionless in its designated docking bay, idle only until some law needed enforcing’.

A city run by cyborgs is not just the setting of the story but an oppressive character that casts an ominous air throughout the story. Aside from the city,  the protagonist, Zach Ti along with other main characters Dice and Tara are also well portrayed. Zach is half Chinese, he speaks only a passable amount of Cantonese and Mandarin but read none of it. His dad has left him to fend for himself since he was twelve and he hopes to re-unite with his father one day. There is this thread running through the story where there are flashbacks  about his father and  what he had said to him before  he left. The father has promised to come back for him and the father remains an elusive character throughout the story.

In the story, the KL city,  once glimmering is now an oppressive wasteland under the ruling of Mutiara Corp that uses tinheads to run the city.  These tinheads are not particularly bright even if they look the part. They are not built for problem-solving  and someone should look into reprogramming them as they use excessive force to go around hurting innocent people and first time offenders unnecessarily.

Nineteen-year-old Zach Ti sells pain killers  and antidote to those victims who have been punished by the tinheads who administer suppression drug on their victims through lodging a syringe  in his or her Uniband as  punishments for purportedly breaking the law. The tinheads have become heavy handed. As he goes around the city, he witnesses a woman getting capital punishment for allegedly touching a tinhead and the woman cries that she has not touched any tinhead. He tries to revive her by jabbing a vial of prevention serum into her Uniband but in vain. Zach needs to earn enough chits to get the EMP slug to replace the EMP slug that his father had given him. He  has made a mistake in lending it to one woman by the name of Darlene who claims to know his dad. He is a good kid and then he accidentally kills two of the tinheads, he has to run for his life. He has become a wanted man. When that happens, he has to reach out to Dice to have a place to hide. How far can you run when you wear a Uniband where you conduct all your activities through it? He is picked up by an elite rebel faction known as Brotherhood and there he meets Tara whom he partners as they undergo some regimented and extremely tough military training and soon they both find that Brotherhood’s methods are more than questionable.

Tinhead City KL was longlisted for Epigram Books Fiction Prize 2020. It is Stuart Danker’s debut novel. Excellent characterization and vivid descriptions of the gruesome happenings that  will send chills to the reader, an engaging read indeed.

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