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Prisoners of Truth a novel by Jody Weiner

Reviewed by Jim Feast

While the book is characterized as a murder mystery most of the detection occurs in a few pages when the hero travels down to Mississippi to search for the remains of a disappeared snitch. Indeed, rather than simply going into an exploration of the detective mode, as I see it, you are after bigger game, namely the evaluation of U.S. society by looking at alternate career paths. 

The two leading characters' paths are delicately dovetailed so two college students' life voyages can be contrasted.

Incidentally, the account of the '60s student rebellion in Madison is certainly the best recreation of the spirit and feelings of that time that I have read, bar none..  

But, to get back to what I was saying, the book presents indelible portraits of two men,. both (I would say) cramped by the system. Lucien, who is originally something of a reforming lawyer, is corrupted by the system, by his taste of riches and fame, into making bad choices. Ollie, in distinction, is something of a loser because he doesn't fully believe in or act on his convictions, and so he dribbles away his life.

In a powerful and ingenious plot, it is only through the men's deepening relationship and through (this is the kicker) one's betrayal (of a sort) of the other, that sets each of them on the right path.' A startling and deeply wrought work.

Jim Feast
(Ph.D, NYU, English, 1991) is a member of the Unbearables literary collective and edited three of their anthologies: Help Yourself, Crimes of the Beats, and TheWorst Book I Ever Read. He has also co-written AIDS: A Second Opinion, and Germs, Biological Warfare and Vaccinations: What You Need to Know, and with Ron Kolm wrote the murder mystery Neo Phobe; Feast writes book reviews for Rain Taxi, American Book Review, The Brooklyn Rail, and Evergreen Review online.


Reviewed by Donna Gillespie

Prisoners of Truth is ingeniously told, exploring a fresh approach to the lawyer-fiction genre as it details the journey of Ollie Katz, a journalist floundering in a tepid career. While struggling with the existential riddles posed by his unfinished novel, Ollie stumbles upon a front-page story involving an old and powerful friend, Lucien Echo, whom Ollie has admired since their college days. The charismatic attorney has been accused of bribing a circuit court judge in a criminal case and Ollie enthusiastically delves into the matter, hoping to vindicate Lucien and inject new life into his own writing career.

Prisoners of Truth is an ambitious first novel, hilarious when you least expect it, laying out enticing clues to the central mystery while layering past over present and allowing the novel that Ollie is writing to intersect with the unfolding events of his life. Further complicating Ollie's quest is the communication growing between him and Alex Carlton, Lucien's radiant but neurotic fiancée. After Ollie is compelled to accept the unsettling reality that Lucien may have committed a crime far worse than fixing a drug case, Ollie must also decide how much he's willing to risk, to uncover the truth.

The ending brings startling twists to every facet of the story, and is ultimately satisfying. It’s a measure of Weiner's seamless skill at characterization that Prisoners of Truth maintains the tension of a good legal thriller while simultaneously drawing the reader in through a desire to uncover the truth of the characters, to peel away their outer layers and expose the darker hearts beneath. 

Donna Gillespie is the author of The Light Bearer, a novel set in ancient Rome, and sequel, Daughter of the Ash.

Reviewed by Scott Lettieri

"Please don't allow the pressure you put on yourself to make you neurotic." The characters in Jody Weiner's novel Prisoners of Truth are not likeable. They inhabit a profligate world of base materialism, greed for power and money, neurotic self-hatred and misplaced vanity:  "On this March day April Stewart obsesses over a tiny wrinkle that appeared this morning on her forehead midway between her eyebrow." Yet, like watching Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas," the reader can't help but be taken in while remaining a distant observer. It's a contradiction that works well, as if the reader was an archeologist mining quaint and distant societies, or perhaps God observing, without judgment, and ultimately relegating the characters to Hell, not because of any evil doing or religious rule breaking, but for the simple reason that He just wouldn't want to hang out with these people.

In Prisoners of Truth, Weiner weaves a morality play for the immoral, or in the case of protagonist, aspiring novelist and freelance reporter, Oliver Katz, the semi-moral. Katz is the product of an upper-middle-class, Midwestern, religiously mixed family--his father is Jewish, his mother, who dies during the story, is not. Ollie is at odds with his duel nature. On the one hand, he's above the fray, an artist living amongst the Philistines. Yet, through his association with big shot Chicago attorney Lucien Echo, he revels in the opportunity to mix it up with the beautiful people: "I snatched some jumbo shrimps instead, feeling empowered by my inside connections at such an opulent spread." When mover and shaker Lucien gets indicted for bribing a judge, he asks Ollie to be his "investigator." They agree on terms as Ollie sees his chance to win cache with the upper crust and make points in his profession by writing a piece for a nationally circulated magazine; perhaps he’ll even cash in by parlaying Lucien's story into a book.

But Katz has always had a love-hate thing for Lucien. They've known each other for decades dating back to their college days together. Ollie admires Lucien and his relatively easy rise to power. Yet he's jealous and acts out by attempting to steal his girlfriends, both in college and present day. Through flashbacks and passages from a novel within the novel that Katz is working on, we become intimate with Ollie's vulnerable and fragile psyche. And as he investigates the circumstances surrounding the criminal charges against Lucien, he's ultimately faced with a dilemma that will define him.

A bit Bonfire of the Vanities, a bit John Barth, Prisoners of Truth is well crafted and an insightful look into the quagmire that is the Criminal Justice System. Weiner himself is an attorney and he strikes a chord with his portrayal of an egotistical, self-righteous lawyer who believes that by being an expert on the law he's somehow above it. Weiner's use of third person flashbacks is a welcome distancing from Ollie's first person present day, often self-pitying view of his world and life. Prisoners of Truth is an insightful and detailed commentary on the desire for prestige and power at the cost of compassion and integrity, which is all too present in our culture.

Scott Lettieri  (San Francisco, October 2007)
Author of Sinner's Paradise


Reviewed by Jeff Eugene

*****A great read.
I was at first attracted to the cover, showing an unusual courtroom scene centered by the yin/yang symbol and thought, what an odd combination. Upon reading, I was delighted to find the criminal case which runs throughout the story less the focus of the book than great characterizations and storytelling. The central person in the novel is constantly battling to find the truth in himself, his friendships, his work, and with the novel he himself is writing, and makes the reader stop and think as well. The well drawn characters stayed with me after the book ended. It would be interesting to see them in serial form either in other books or perhaps television.

Jeff Eugene, an avid reader, and artist
(Barnes & Noble)