The Darren Street novels by Scott Pratt

Justice Redeemed Justice Burning Justice Lost

I’ve enjoyed Scott Pratt’s Joe Dillard legal thrillers, so I picked up the three (to date) novels in his Darren Street series, Justice Redeemed, Justice Burning, and Justice Lost. I’ll review them in one fell swoop, because I found them weird. Problematic. Though well written.

The first book, Justice Redeemed, starts with a very clever hook. Imagine you’re a criminal defense lawyer, and the worst person you’ve ever met walks into your office wanting you to defend him. He basically admits (without remorse) the rape and murder of two little boys. When you refuse his business, he explicitly threatens your own young son. You appeal to the police, but they tell you they can’t do anything about the guy.

My reflexive response to that situation was, “I’d find a murderer, and hire him to kill the monster.” And that’s what Darren does, going to one of his former clients. But the next day, regaining his good sense, he goes back to the guy and calls the hit off.

But the rapist/murderer gets killed anyway. And Darren finds himself charged with the murder. The county attorney general, an old enemy, has manufactured evidence and crafted a very neat frame. Ahead of Darren loom the horrors of the federal prison system. It will take all his legal skill, plus survival skills, plus some good friends and (frankly) some plain cheating to get his freedom back again.

The course of the three books turn Darren into an entirely different man from what he was before. The picture of the legal system here is of an intensely corrupt institution, one in which playing by the rules only makes you a sucker. Darren becomes not only a manipulator but a killer, and he finds he has a taste for it.

Legal dystopia. Legal horror. These are descriptions that come to mind when describing this series. While reading the second book, Justice Burning, I got the impression that Darren’s chickens were coming home to roost – that he was learning that the cost of his new course was too high, that he was becoming the things he hated. But the third book, Justice Lost, brought him up to the top again, though not without cost.

I don’t know what to say. Either these are amoral books or moral tragedies that are just taking a while to work up to the final catharsis. Either way, after reading them through with great interest (they’re very well written), I was left with an uneasy feeling. I don’t think I’ll read another, if more appear.

I can recommend the Darren Street books from a storytelling/craft point of view. I can’t recommend them (on the basis of my reading to date) from a moral point of view. Cautions for language and mature themes.

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