Saturday, 02 August 2008

On the rare occasions that civil liberties and due process play a part in pulp fiction and related formats, they are usually cast as villains. I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, when I discovered this novel among my possessions while unpacking in our new home.

Since electronic eavesdropping has been in the newspaper headlines quite a bit recently, I thought I'd read it. I'm a few chapters into it and enjoying it.

The murder of a judge in the town of Aimerly brings an Anti-Crime Commission operative who hopes to use the crime as political leverage. Get enough people outraged and you can change things at the top.

The operative, Sam Murray, is the Commission's "best man", though he seems gloomy about his work when we first meet him.

"Oh, yes," Murray said. "Expose wiretapping and perhaps the state legislature will investigate and then we will have strict new wiretapping laws. It will be illegal to tap another man's phone if he is a confessed sodomist who was bitten by a whale in the South Atlantic on a Tuesday. Otherwise, it'll be okay."

As Murray arrives in Aimerly, Ben Phillips, owner of a chain of liqour stores, is also trying to exploit the political potential of the murdered judge. Standing on the spot where the judge was shot, he campaigns for election to the Board of Aldermen.

They didn't even send a lieutenant to stop him. They sent a patrolman instead. He asked Ben Phillips if there was a permit to hold a public meeting.
"I got no permit," Ben said.
"Can't hold no meeting, then," the cop said.
"They didn't have no permit when they shot down the judge," Ben said.
"He wasn't holding no meeting," the cop said.

The best bit in the first few chapters, though, is when Sam Murray talks to Leclerc, the editor of the town paper. Murray explains his motives and how he has a couple of things working in his favor. One of the things is money. He can pay a lot for information.

"I got something else going for me, too. Justice, or whatever the hell you call it. The constitution. Fourth amendment. Privacy of the individual—unreasonable search—so forth."
"If you had enough justice, you wouldn't need the money," Leclerc said.
"I'm glad you put it that way," Sam Murray said. "For a minute I was afraid you were a real pessimist. I thought you were going to say if I had enough money, I wouldn't need the justice."