Fool Gone Missing
Unaware, and therefore not caring, that anyone occupied the universe but himself, Grant “Dash” Jennings was clever enough to succeed in California. But there were others. and they were changing the world in which Jennings thrived. Among these were two victims of Jennings’ schemes: Gerald Mann, a politically astute San Quentin inmate and Roy Lindstrom, Mann’s monkish lawyer. More dangerously, there were also two San Francisco trial lawyers—Daniel Dermot O’Neil and Joe Cleary—who hailed from Butte, where being tough was a quality that transcended anything Dash Jennings could imagine.
The undoing of Jennings’ world began with the murder of Mann and others. When he was unable to accomplish the death of Lindstrom, Jennings inadvertently allowed him to escape. For over two years, Lindstrom ran, believing that for him California was unsafe. He was right.
Jennings’ evil and ultimately desperate schemes cut a destructive swath from one end of the state to the other. The instrument of that destruction was Jennings’ reliable killer, Clem DeFoe. Even DeFoe, with his special skills, was thwarted by the guys from Butte. Arrogantly, Jennings tried to save his crippled gubernatorial campaign by dispatching DeFoe to murder his antagonists. It wasn’t his last mistake but it was the most foolish.
Oh, and there was someone else—a brown-skinned teacher and union leader running against Jennings for Governor. The ancestors of Bamba Priata in California went back in time longer than the forebears of Jennings or most any Anglo. It was a time of change in a place that nurtured change.
Ultimately, Dash Jennings’ rottenness failed him and he had to run. But he was caught and—fool that he was—rejoined DeFoe.
Having suffered the first trial loss of his career, Daniel Dermot O’Neil, a San Francisco civil trial lawyer, licks his wounds and tries to recover. Three years later, he receives a telephone call from the Sheriff of a rural Mississippi County. A woman has been murdered in her home and has left an envelope on which O’Neil’s name and address appears. The decedent, he realizes, was the foreperson on the jury in that case [Pavlone] he tried and lost three years before. He travels to Mississippi to open the envelope. It contains a copy of many canceled checks made out to the deceased for large sums and a small, black and white photograph that provides a compelling clue as to the reason for the checks, if not the murder. O’Neil is enlisted by the Mississippi Attorney General to help solve the murder, as it may be connected to other murders involving various Mississippi law enforcement.
Although highly improbable, the evidence mounts that the murder victim was bribed for her vote in the Pavlone case. A relentless and dangerous pursuit of answers leads to an enigmatic supposed ‘insurance adjuster’. Carrying standard insurance approaches to an extreme, this adjuster shows up in high stakes cases where there are catastrophic injuries caused by defectively designed products.
The pursuit of answers and of justice takes O’Neil to many compelling places around the country. His dogged quest is nearly sidetracked by a brilliant, beautiful woman of diverse ancestry – a woman he cannot relinquish. Ultimately, he must let his life long friend, Joe Cleary, actually try the civil case that extracts the fortunes and the licenses of the principal players that had managed to escape criminal prosecution.
As a lawyer who practiced in San Francisco for thirty years I find Mr. McCray’s novel a most enjoyable and excellent read. His understanding and knowledge of the craft of the civil and criminal trial lawyer is evident throughout this fascinating story. He weaves a gripping tale of mystery and machination. The characters he has created fairly jump off the pages. By the time you reach the surprising conclusion you feel that DD O’Neill and all of the principle actors in this dramatic story are familiar friends and acquaintances.
Although the matters presented in this tale of legal intrigue are at times complex Mr. McCray’s facility for telling a good story make it all eminently readable and understandable. From jury tampering to blackmail to murder, this novel has it all. While the wisdom in this fine novel may be elusive it is certainly enlightening and compelling.
I highly recommend Illusive Wisdom to anyone who enjoys a fine mystery wrapped in compelling human drama. — John J. Davids, J.D., Retired San Francisco Trial Attorney
J.M. has written a beautifully intelligent, irresistible legal thriller, full of energetic and lively characters. The “good guys” are real people, with flesh and blood fears and hopes. There is hard-work, lots of plot machinations that draw the reader deeply into the story, and take the reader across the country and back again. There is love fulfilled, and old lust enjoyed in remembrance and in denial and loss. There is perseverance and perspicacious deducing. There is indefatigable pursuit of justice, using both brains and brawn, both incorporating some sneaky maneuvering. There is a plethora of weapons available to all characters. There are gun shot wounds, and all this is in the pursuit of justice.
The best part of the yarn may be the tackling of a conspiracy, luckily involving Mississippi and a variety of those who have promised to use the shield of justice for the public good. Add all the legal excitement, the crime-solving puzzle, and the sex toys, and you have a riveting read that is hard to put down. This is a great book for a long airport wait, for a wonderful stay at the beach, or when waiting for court to begin. It is exciting, absorbing, legally compelling, and basically covers the Seven Deadly Sins—and then some! — Verna MacCornack, Ph.D., New York City Psychologist
The Wisdom of Rain
The third story of the San Francisco trial lawyers DD O’Neil and Joe Cleary begins in the rugged, mountainous country southeast of Butte, Montana. There, in 1955, a fourteen-year-old Danny O’Neil witnesses the brutal torture and murder of a Chinese man by members of a nativist gang known as The Vengeance Legion. DD barely escapes with his own life.
After an icy pursuit, the perpetrators are captured and the trial of the Vengeance Boys becomes the town’s main attraction and a test of the legal system – a test which it could not ultimately pass. But then, by a bold and murderous escape from jail, the convicted Legionnaires avoid the wrath of the law and escape to their lair across thawed terrain, only to be ambushed and each fatally shot by an unseen gunman. That gunman’s escape across the mountains during the raging rainstorm that obliterates all clues is the stuff of legend – a legend recalled thirty years later in San Francisco.
In 1985, O’Neil and Cleary, in a violent battle on the side of the rank-and-file of a large trade union against a ruthless empire builder and a self-anointed radical lawyer, have been wounded, others have been killed, and the perpetrators of what can only be called mayhem seem about to get away with it all. Unwinding the twisted campaign to maintain control of Construction Steel Workers, Local 66 – from the schemes of an ambitious deal-maker to the warped machinations of a self-appointed revolutionary lawyer – requires tenacity, brinkmanship and wit. Cleary, relentless in cross-xamination, breaks a bemused lawyer on the witness stand in Federal Court and the scheme to destroy the movement begins to crumble. As in 1955, a strange justice is delivered, but not without rain.
The Wisdom of Rain is a great read. The writing is clear and the points well made. More importantly, the two stories that comprise the book illuminate the difficulty of justice—what it means and how one gets it. I spent nearly all of my career in organized labor and would not change that at all. Nonetheless, it is not a bowl of peaches and cream until and unless the union members stand up and take charge; a union is vulnerable to the corruptions of the rest of the society. McCray makes that clear here—he makes it real clear. Although this is a work of fiction, I can attest to similar incidents in which the author was involved and survived. The violence and threats of violence were always real and only occasionally redeeming. The ongoing story of the law practice of the two men from Butte ties me as a reader to a great tale that I want to continue to read. — Walt Norris, retired director of public employees, Stationary Engineers Union Local 39, IUOE, AFL-CIO
Murder at the Thorn Tree Hotel
The first in a series of stories about the cases of two San Francisco trial lawyers from Butte, Montana. This confounding mystery introduces San Francisco trial lawyer Joe Cleary in his criminal defense days. The time is the mid-1970s in The City with the “amiable accommodation of the strange and the stranger”.
A vicious thug has apparently been shot to death at the front door of the Thorn Tree. A judge with an unseemly interest in the matter conveniently finds that the public defender has a conflict of interest and appoints Cleary to represent the accused killer – LaMonte Griffin.
Cursed by twists and turns of mind bending proportions, Cleary ultimately brings together minute pieces of evidence to show that Griffin did not kill. It’s a page-turner with a colorful cast of characters.
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