The Devil Amongst the Lawyers: A Ballad Novel (Ballad Series)

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9781511332866: The Devil Amongst the Lawyers: A Ballad Novel (Ballad Series)

In 1935, when Erma Morton, a beautiful young woman with a teaching degree, is charged with the murder of her father in a remote Virginia mountain community, the case becomes a cause célèbre for the national press. Eager for a case to replace the Lindbergh trial in the public’s imagination, the journalists descend on the mountain county intent on infusing their stories with quaint local color: horse-drawn buggies, rundown shacks, children in threadbare clothes. They need tales of rural poverty to give their Depression-era readers people whom they can feel superior to. The untruth of these cultural stereotypes did not deter the big-city reporters, but a local journalist, Carl Jennings, fresh out of college and covering his first major story, reports what he sees: an ordinary town and a defendant who is probably guilty. This journey to a distant time and place summons up ghosts from the reporters’ pasts: Henry Jernigan’s sojourn in Japan that ended in tragedy, Shade Baker’s hardscrabble childhood on the Iowa prairie, and Rose Hanelon’s brittle sophistication, a shield for her hopeless love affair. While they spin their manufactured tales of squalor, Carl tries to discover the truth in the Morton trial with the help of his young cousin Nora, who has the Sight. But who will believe a local cub reporter whose stories contradict the nation’s star journalists? For the listener, the novel resonates with the present: an economic depression, a deadly flu epidemic, a world contending with the rise of political fanatics, and a media culture determined to turn news stories into soap operas for the diversion of the masses.

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About the Author:

Sharyn McCrumb is the author of several bestselling novels, including The Rosewood Casket, She Walks These Hills, and The Ballad of Frankie Silver, which was nominated for a Southeast Booksellers Association award. She has received awards for Outstanding Contribution to Appalachian Literature and Southern Writer of the Year. Her books have been named notable books of the year by both The New York Times and Los Angeles Times. She lives in Virginia.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

ONE
NARROW ROAD TO A FAR PROVINCE
 
Each day is a journey, and the journey itself home.
—MATSUO BASH?
 
Two hours west of Washington, Henry Jernigan finally gave up on his book. This Mr. John Fox, Jr., might have been a brilliant author—although personally he doubted it—but the clattering of the train shook the page so much that he found himself reading the same tiresome line over and over until his head began to ache. The November chill seemed to seep through the sides of the railroad car, and even in his leather gloves and overcoat, he did not feel warm.
He thought of taking a fortifying nip of brandy from the silver flask secreted in his coat pocket, but he was afraid of depleting his supply, when he was by no means sure that he could obtain another bottle in the benighted place that was his destination. Prohibition had been repealed eighteen months ago, but he had heard that some of these backwoods places still banned liquor by local ordinance. He repressed a shudder. Imagine trying to live in such a place, sober.
A man lay dead in some one-horse town in the mountains of southwest Virginia. Well, what of it?
The only thing that made death interesting was the details.
In point of fact, the death of a stranger no longer interested Henry Jernigan at all. In all his years on the job he had seen too many permutations of death to take much of an interest anymore, but even if the emotion was lacking, the skill to recount it was still there in force. Jernigan would supply the telling particulars of the story; his readers could furnish the tears. All that really mattered to him these days was a decent dinner, a clean and quiet place to sleep, and a flask of spirits to insulate him from the tedium of it all.
He brushed a speck of cigar ash from the sleeve of his black wool coat. Henry Jernigan may have been sent to the back of beyond by an unfeeling philistine editor, but by god that didn’t mean he had to go there looking like a yokel. True, his starched linen shirt was sweaty and rumpled from the vicissitudes of a crowded winter train ride, and his shoes, hand-stitched leather from a cobbler in Baltimore, glistened with mud and coal grit, but he fancied that the essential worth of his wardrobe, and thus of himself, would shine through the shabbiness of the suit and the dust of the road. Henry Jernigan was a gentleman. A gentleman of the press, perhaps, but still a gentleman.
He looked without favor at the book in his lap, and with a sigh he closed it, marking his place only because he was reading Fox’s novel for research, not for plea sure. After sixty interminable pages he had begun to think of the book as “The Trail of the Loathsome Pine,” a quip he planned to spring on his colleagues as soon as he met up with them. At last winter’s trial in New Jersey, clever but ugly Rose Hanelon had made a similar play on words with a Gene Stratton Porter title. When the family governess had committed suicide, Rose took to referring to her as the “Girl of the Lindbergh-Lost.”
No doubt Rose was on her way here, as well. He thought of going to look for her on his way to the dining car when it was closer to dinnertime. At least one need not lack for civilized conversation, even in the hinterlands.
He knew all the big wheels on the major papers, of course. The places changed, but the faces and the greasy diner food stayed the same, no matter where they went. He didn’t see those smug jackals from the New York Journal American, though. That was odd. The word was that the Hearst syndicate had paid for an exclusive on this trial, so he had expected to see their people. Either they had already arrived, or they had what they needed and went home, relying on local stringers to send them the facts of the trial.
Henry’s paper seemed ready to fight them for dominance of the story, though. They had even assigned one of the World Tele gram photographers to accompany him to this godforsaken place.
Rose Hanelon of the Herald Tribune would be here, though. Henry was fond of Rose. While technically she was a competitor, they got along well, and he flattered himself that his serious readers and the sentimental followers of her sob sister columns were worlds apart, so that, in fact, no rivalry existed. He even looked the other way when Rose slipped Shade Baker a few bucks to take photos for her, too.
The brotherhood of the Fourth Estate: it was as close to a family as Henry had these days. He went back to thinking up clever epigrams to entertain Shade and Rose at dinner.
They never printed their heartless little jests, of course. Mustn’t disillusion their readers, who saw them as omnipotent and benevolent deities meddling in the affairs of mortals. At least, Henry liked to think his readers imagined him in such an exalted position, if only for a few fleeting hours before they wrapped the potato peels in his newspaper column, or set it down on the kitchen floor for the new puppy. Sic transit gloria mundi.
The train clattered on, and he stared out at the barren fields edged by a forest of skeletal trees. In just such a landscape, the broken body of a child had been unearthed.
Now that had been a story. A golden-haired baby kidnapped . . . Father a dashing pi lot, who gained worldwide celebrity as the first man to fly nonstop across the Atlantic . . . Mother an ambassador’s daughter . . . Frantic searches . . . Ransom demands, and then all hopes dashed when the child’s remains were found in nearby woods in a shallow grave . . . that story had everything. Wealth, culture, celebrity, tragedy, and since it had all happened in New Jersey, a comfortable distance from Washington and New York, the reporters had been able to make excursions back to the city.
That had been the perfect assignment. All of them thought so. A case that transfixed the world, enough drama and glamour to sell a year’s worth of newspapers, all set in a civilized locale convenient for the national press. And for a grand finale: the execution of the guilty man, a foreigner—a detested German—who had been caught with the ransom money hidden in his garage. If they had invented the tale out of whole cloth, they couldn’t have done better.
In this case they wouldn’t be so lucky. This time a backwoods coal miner had got his head bashed in, and because the culprit—or the defendant, anyhow—was a beautiful, educated girl, the newspaper editors thought that Mr. and Mrs. America would eat it up. Provided, of course, it was served to them in a palatable stew of sex, drama, and exotic local color. Henry Jernigan was just the chef to concoct this tasty dish.
He directed his gaze out the window, hoping to soothe the pain in his temples with the calming effect of the austere view: more brown, empty fields, bare hillsides of leafless trees, and beyond that the distant haze of blue mountains, indistinguishable from the lowlying clouds at the horizon.
In the stubbled ruin of a cornfield, he saw a ragged scarecrow swaying in the wind, which summoned to mind a favorite verse from the Japanese poet Bash?: “A weathered skeleton in windswept fields of memory . . .” He looked around at his fellow passengers, bundled up in drab clothes, sleeping or staring off into space. Surely he was the only person present conversant with the works of Bash?. Yes, once Henry Jernigan had possessed a soul above the cheap pratings of a tabloid newspaper, and in his cups he still could quote from memory the masters of literature from Li Po to Cervantes. But what good had it done him?
Scarecrows in dead land.
The chiaroscuro vista sweeping past him only succeeded in further quelling his spirits. Jernigan hoped he liked the countryside as much as the next man, but as a city-dweller born and bred, he preferred nature in cultivated moderation: a nice arboretum, for example. This temperate jungle spread out before him, tangled underbrush and dense forest, hedged by dark, forbidding mountains, simply reinforced his belief that he was leaving civilization. At least, he was leaving single malt scotch and the Paris-trained chefs of Manhattan’s restaurants, which amounted to the same thing.
It was the fault of Mr. John Fox, Jr., that he was on this journey in the first place—all the more reason to loathe the man’s book. Still, he would persevere, hoping that if he kept reading, the text might provide him with a few wisps of atmosphere to spice up the story he would have to write. The book, first published in 1908 and popular again now only because of the film currently being made of it, took place in the 1890s, but surely nothing had changed around here in the ensuing four decades. Besides, where else could you turn for a primer on the backwoods culture of the Southern mountains? He needed some telling details, a few quaint folk customs, some strands of irony to elevate the sordid little tale to the level of tragedy.
Details were Henry Jernigan’s specialty. Well, all of their specialties, really. Each of his colleagues-cum-rivals, all of whom were probably holed up somewhere on this interminable train, had his own forte in transforming an ordinary account of human vice and folly into an epic saga that would sell newspapers. Jernigan’s own skill lay in framing an incident in the classical perspective, so that every jilted lover was a thwarted Romeo, every murdered wife a Desdemona. He regaled his readers with his cultural observations, making allusions to historical parallels and literary counterparts, working in a telling quote to elevate the tone of even the most sordid little murder. High-brow stuff, so that the readers could tell themselves they weren’t wallowing in the squalor of poverty and misery; they were gaining a new perspective on the essential truths of classical literature.
He was lucky to work for a newspaper that could afford such literary extravagance. Some of his colleagues had to stagger along on blood and gore accounts not far removed from the True Detective pulps, and the s...

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Book Description BRILLIANCE AUDIO, 2015. CD-Audio. Book Condition: New. Unabridged. Language: English . Brand New. In 1935, when Erma Morton, a beautiful young woman with a teaching degree, is charged with the murder of her father in a remote Virginia mountain community, the case becomes a cause celebre for the national press. Eager for a case to replace the Lindbergh trial in the public s imagination, the journalists descend on the mountain county intent on infusing their stories with quaint local color: horse-drawn buggies, rundown shacks, children in threadbare clothes. They need tales of rural poverty to give their Depression-era readers people whom they can feel superior to. The untruth of these cultural stereotypes did not deter the big-city reporters, but a local journalist, Carl Jennings, fresh out of college and covering his first major story, reports what he sees: an ordinary town and a defendant who is probably guilty. This journey to a distant time and place summons up ghosts from the reporters pasts: Henry Jernigan s sojourn in Japan that ended in tragedy, Shade Baker s hardscrabble childhood on the Iowa prairie, and Rose Hanelon s brittle sophistication, a shield for her hopeless love affair. While they spin their manufactured tales of squalor, Carl tries to discover the truth in the Morton trial with the help of his young cousin Nora, who has the Sight. But who will believe a local cub reporter whose stories contradict the nation s star journalists? For the listener, the novel resonates with the present: an economic depression, a deadly flu epidemic, a world contending with the rise of political fanatics, and a media culture determined to turn news stories into soap operas for the diversion of the masses. Bookseller Inventory # BRI9781511332866

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Book Description BRILLIANCE AUDIO, 2015. CD-Audio. Book Condition: New. Unabridged. Language: English . Brand New. In 1935, when Erma Morton, a beautiful young woman with a teaching degree, is charged with the murder of her father in a remote Virginia mountain community, the case becomes a cause celebre for the national press. Eager for a case to replace the Lindbergh trial in the public s imagination, the journalists descend on the mountain county intent on infusing their stories with quaint local color: horse-drawn buggies, rundown shacks, children in threadbare clothes. They need tales of rural poverty to give their Depression-era readers people whom they can feel superior to. The untruth of these cultural stereotypes did not deter the big-city reporters, but a local journalist, Carl Jennings, fresh out of college and covering his first major story, reports what he sees: an ordinary town and a defendant who is probably guilty. This journey to a distant time and place summons up ghosts from the reporters pasts: Henry Jernigan s sojourn in Japan that ended in tragedy, Shade Baker s hardscrabble childhood on the Iowa prairie, and Rose Hanelon s brittle sophistication, a shield for her hopeless love affair. While they spin their manufactured tales of squalor, Carl tries to discover the truth in the Morton trial with the help of his young cousin Nora, who has the Sight. But who will believe a local cub reporter whose stories contradict the nation s star journalists? For the listener, the novel resonates with the present: an economic depression, a deadly flu epidemic, a world contending with the rise of political fanatics, and a media culture determined to turn news stories into soap operas for the diversion of the masses. Bookseller Inventory # BRI9781511332866

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