“Atty At Law” By: Tim Lockette
“Atty At Law”
Author: Tim Lockette
Publisher: Seven Stories Press
Price: $18.95 (Hardcover)
Tim Lockette of Jacksonville, Alabama is a journalist, not a lawyer as one might expect from the title. This is his debut novel and I truly hope the first of many.
The book is FOR young readers, and although I am definitely not one, I enjoyed it thoroughly—for the characters created, the issues addressed, and for the very clever allusions and references which the young reader will not recognize but which are a delight to those who notice them.
The action takes place in fictional Strudwick County, Alabama, 20 miles north of the Florida state line.
Atticus Tutwiler Peale, a girl, was named by her father, a defense lawyer, in homage to Harper Lee’s fictional attorney and Julia Tutwiler, fighter for prison reform. As Atty tells us, her dad might have gone with the feminine, Attica, but many would think her to be named after two prisons.
Atty’s mother is deceased and lawyer Peale, a white man, married Taleesa, an African-American woman. They have a mixed-race son, Martinez. In southeast Alabama, the family has to navigate some stares and rudeness, intentional and unintentional.
With her stepmom at the animal shelter, Atty is horrified when she learns how many dogs are put down each month and specially enraged when the county wants to put down a mutt named Easy who did bite a man, but clearly a rotten fellow who deserved to be bitten
Atty, guided by her dad, reads the relevant sections of the penal code and puts together a brief defending the dog Easy. She also volunteers at the shelter and writes a column describing cute and worthy pets that need adopting.
At the same time, there is a murder in town. The owner of a pawn shop, having recently won the Florida lottery, plans to retire, but is killed. An indigent, illiterate African American is accused. Atty, like Nancy Drew, takes it upon herself to find the evidence which will exonerate him.
As the two capital cases move forward, we follow Atty through the summer before her seventh- grade year and into that maelstrom, middle school. She is viciously bullied online, is ignored by the cool girls, has trouble finding her group.
There is a lively story, but with wonderful bits for the adult reader. Defending Easy is frustrating. Lockette entitles one chapter “Hell Is Other People,” a blatant reference to the most famous line in Jean-Paul Sartre’s play of existential despair “No Exit.” There is something for everyone here.
The county attorney is named Backsley Graddoch, which will ring bells for readers of a certain age.
For her work at the animal shelter, Atty is summoned to Montgomery where she is commissioned an Honorary Colonel in the Alabama State Militia.
This is the same title held, and actually used, by Elvis’s manager Colonel Tom Parker.
At the capitol, Martinez finds the giant portraits and statues threatening. He declares the building is like a castle. It is. In “The Castle of Otranto” a gothic novel by Ann Radcliffe, the portraits are dangerous and seem to come to life.
Astonishingly, the governor is named Fischer King. THE fisher king was the monarch in Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land.” The ruler of that waste land was sterile and so his realm also was barren.
April in the poem is, famously, the cruelest month because it reminds subjects of the waste land of how, in times past, the showers of spring brought forth new growth, but no longer.
Atty, unhappy in school, seeking guidance, is reading a book entitled “Saving Emmeline Grangerford: A Study of Teen Mopiness Among Girls.”
In “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” when Huck and Jim wash up in Arkansas, Huck comes upon the sappy death poems of Emmeline Grangerford, one of them dedicated to a canary: “I Shall Never Hear Thy Sweet Chirrup More Alas.” Another: “Ode to Stephen Dowling Bots, Dec’d.”
Death poems were very much in vogue in the nineteenth century as death, though still one to a customer, was much more a part of everyday life. Mothers and infants died in childbirth; children died of a myriad of now preventable diseases. Tuberculosis was rampant. The deceased were laid out on the dining room table for several days.
Sentimental, even grotesque poems for the dead loved one including Poe’s “Annabel Lee” were very much in vogue.
Atty pursues her case to save the dog Easy, and also gets involved with trying to save a giant alligator, “The Swamp Monster.” She learns, as her father already knew, that it does not make you popular to defend the accused, those sometimes called monsters, even before trial.
And then at Halloween, dressed as a pig, not a ham as in “Mockingbird,” Atty narrowly escapes death at the hands of the villain who killed the pawn broker and shot Easy.
There is a happy ending of course, and a lot of fun along the way.
Don Noble’s newest book is Alabama Noir, a collection of original stories by Winston Groom, Ace Atkins, Carolyn Haines, Brad Watson, and eleven other Alabama authors.