Plot: Michaels’s plot details the making of a possible murderer, exploring chapters of Tom Justice’s life since childhood. Featuring a fiery cast of characters who are mostly governed by emotion, the book’s plot contains many fast-moving and exciting elements.
Prose: Michaels’s prose is excellent and even includes a Midwestern twang to lend the narrative voice credibility. The dialogue and descriptions also rely on high levels of suspense to keep readers intrigued throughout.
Originality: The novel opens chapters with quotes and testimonies from potential witnesses to the aptly-named Justice case, reminding readers of the historical event that inspired the imaginative plot.
Character Development: Michaels’s diverse and vibrant cast of characters is the gemstone buried in this novel. The author provides vivid descriptions of characters, many of whom will be memorable for readers after the final page is turned.
Date Submitted: August 14, 2018
Michaels (The Promise, 2016, etc.) offers a historical novel about a surgeon who’s accused of murder after mysterious events at a medical clinic leave a man dead. In 1907, attorney Jonathan Perris visits Tom Justice, a doctor imprisoned in the Ingleside County Jail in Northern California. After Tom was arrested for killing his cousin, Eli Porter, his friend Katherine Firestone hired Jonathan to prove his innocence. But when the lawyer asks Tom whether he committed the crime, he answers with a cryptic response: “perhaps I did.” With his client providing little assistance, Jonathan takes it upon himself to delve into Tom’s past and determine whether he is, in fact, guilty. As the attorney tries to uncover the truth, he interviews various characters who’ve come into contact with Tom throughout his life. The author takes readers back to Tom’s childhood on a farm in North Platte, Nebraska, where he spent summers with Eli. Tom’s relationship with his cousin is complex, and the two often fight; later, things get more complicated when Eli falls for Tom’s college sweetheart. Tom later enters medical school and hones his professional skills, but Eli takes a different path, moving back to Nebraska and settling into the life of a family man. Tom ends up running a clinic for Chinese-Americans in San Francisco. As Perris collects information through his interviews, the author effectively drops clues along the way for the reader, painting a picture of what might have happened to result in Tom’s incarceration. This novel, the fourth in Michaels’ The Golden City series, is chock-full of details about California in the earliest part of the 20th century, and it showcases the rampant prejudice against Chinese immigrants that pervaded the West Coast during the period. In accessible and absorbing prose, the author also describes the arcane medical practices of the era. Although the numerous characters and subplots can get confusing at times, there are a sufficient number of high-stakes moments to keep the tale suspenseful and engaging throughout. A well-thought-out legal drama, full of intrigue and duplicity.