A Calamity of Souls

A Calamity of Souls

by David Baldacci
Setting: Virginia
Genres: Fiction / Thrillers / Suspense
Published on April 16, 2024
Pages: 400
Format: eBook Source: Library

Set in the tumultuous year of 1968 in southern Virginia, a racially-charged murder case sets a duo of white and Black lawyers against a deeply unfair system as they work to defend their wrongfully-accused Black defendants in this courtroom drama from #1 New York Times bestselling author David Baldacci. 

Jack Lee is a white lawyer from Freeman County, Virginia, who has never done anything to push back against racism, until he decides to represent Jerome Washington, a Black man charged with brutally killing an elderly and wealthy white couple. Doubting his decision, Lee fears that his legal skills may not be enough to prevail in a case where the odds are already stacked against both him and his client. And he quickly finds himself out of his depth when he realizes that what is at stake is far greater than the outcome of a murder trial. 

Desiree DuBose is a Black lawyer from Chicago who has devoted her life to furthering the causes of justice and equality for everyone. She comes to Freeman County and enters a fractious and unwieldy partnership with Lee in a legal battle against the best prosecutor in the Commonwealth. Yet DuBose is also aware that powerful outside forces are at work to blunt the victories achieved by the Civil Rights era.
Lee and DuBose could not be more dissimilar. On their own, neither one can stop the prosecution’s deliberate march towards a guilty verdict and the electric chair.  But together, the pair fight for what once seemed impossible: a chance for a fair trial and true justice. 

Does the world need another story where a white man finds out that other people have it harder than he does? The author is a white male lawyer from the southern U.S. who is a few years younger than his protagonist. I understand that he is working out his feelings towards the racism he encountered growing up. There are interesting nuances such as in the character of his mother who had very complicated feelings towards the Black people around her. There is an exploration of the ways that white people bent over backwards to justify their own racism to themselves.

“W. E. B. Du Bois made that point clear in his works. The powers that be promise one thing to the whites at the bottom of the ladder.” DuBose said, “That they will always be above the Blacks.”

However, this story would have been more interesting if it had been told from any other character’s point of view. He could have chosen the Black Vietnam War veteran who was charged with a crime that he didn’t commit. There was a Black female lawyer who travels in the South fighting civil rights cases. These could have been rich points of view to see instead of a clueless white guy.

“Despite what Harper Lee wrote in that book, I’ve never once met an Atticus Finch in the South. Quite the opposite.”

There are also some issues with the handling of a disabled character in this book. (Hover over to read the spoilers.)

There is a mentally disabled sister of the main character. At the beginning of the book, his father discusses with him that eventually he will be responsible for her care. Then the father feels guilty for putting that on his son. Guess how that gets resolved? She gets killed, of course, by the bad guys to spur him on take the case personally. You could lift that character completely out of the book and not change the story much at all. It wasn’t necessary except for shock value. The answer to who murdered the people was unsatisfying too. It made sense but felt very, “Sorry we framed these Black people but what did you expect us to do?” There was a feeling that you should forgive it all but they didn’t really mean to do it. It just got sort of out of control. Whoops, we ruined your lives! No hard feelings, right?