Starred review from April 3, 2000
Clark, a circuit court judge in Virginia, has written a sophisticated legal thriller that is closer to the drug-besotted dadaism of Tom McGuane's early novels than to John Grisham. Evers Wheeling is a judge living in the small town of Norton, N.C. His wife, Jo Miller, refuses to visit him there; she lives, instead, on a farm Evers bought her near Durham. Evers and his brother, Pascal, inherited a fortune, but Pascal dissipated his share rapidly because "you're only young once, but you can be immature forever." One hungover morning, Evers is confronted by enigmatic Ruth Esther English, a used-car saleswoman with an inexplicable peculiarity: she cries white alabaster tears ("small bright circles... like a row of marble dimes") when she offers Evers money to intervene in favor of her brother, Artis, who is up on a cocaine possession charge. Artis holds a clue that would allow Ruth Esther to locate $100,000 hidden after a robbery committed by Ruth, Artis and their late foster father. In a separate development, Evers, acting on a tip, discovers Jo Miller in flagrante with a local farmer. Egged on by Pascal's pot-smoking friends, Evers takes up with Ruth Esther and her lawyer, Pauletta Lightwren Qwai. Among Evers's less charming qualities are his bigotry and sexism, but Pauletta, a black activist, is attracted by some buried decency in the judge. As the couple lurch toward romance, Evers is mired in ever more shattering discoveries--the worst of which involves his wife and his brother. When Evers's vicious divorce trial is interrupted by violent death, Clark expertly causes Evers's own story and Ruth Esther's case to converge, delivering an enthralling mix of Southern gothic excess and legal procedure. BOMC and QPB alternate selection.