Book Review: The Wrong Side by Robert Bailey
This is a legal thriller, second in a series about Black lawyer Bocephus Haynes, former college football star now practicing in his home town of Pulaski, Tennessee… infamous as the town where a notorious hate organization was formed, and a town where it’s not easy for a Black man to get a fair trial. Bo is asked to represent Odell Champagne, high school football hero, when Odell is accused of murdering his girlfriend Brittany, a young singer on the verge of superstardom.
As a legal thriller, this is really very good. Bo cares about his clients, his family, his town, and the victim and her family. It’s his own call to represent Odell, but he believes the teenager to be innocent. It’s a tiny detail uncovered by Bo himself that finally cracks the case, when he’s able to put a witness on the stand and break their story. The author is a lawyer and the courtroom stuff is extremely well written.
I was a bit bemused by the subplot with the district attorney general and her son; this appears to have been something that carried through from the first book. It doesn’t actually do anything here apart from take the ‘General’ off the legal field of play for a while, and really felt as though it could have been cut completely and not really detracted all that much from the plot. Possibly this plot thread is going to really heat up in later books in the series.
Now I’m going to come to what really made me feel uncomfortable about this book, and it’s this: in a book which references To Kill A Mockingbird and the fraught history of Pulaski, in which the lead character, a Black man, has witnessed lynchings of family members and is now representing a Black teenager accused of killing his Black girlfriend in front of an almost entirely white jury… I’m uncomfortable that the author is white. This feels like a story that isn’t his to tell. It’s delving into Black history and trauma of Black people in the South both past and present, and a white author monetizing that feels very icky to me. I’m not saying that you should never write characters outside of your own racial background. Just that maybe we should be conscious that some stories aren’t ours to tell, and I think this is one of them.
It’s a well written story; I’ll give it four stars for execution, but my discomfort on discovering that the author is white means I will be avoiding his work in the future.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this title via NetGalley.