August 11, 2007
Friendship betrayal, sexual blackmail, lesbianism, incest, adultery, mixed race marriage, politics, revenge, and murder all are present in Linda McKeever Bullard’s complexly plotted legal/romance thriller SHADES OF JUSTICE (Dutton, 325 pp). In Gwendolyn Parrish, the protagonist/narrator, Bullard has created a character that so disgusted me because of the foolish decisions she makes in her ambition to become a judge that I found it difficult to sympathize with her.
Her preoccupation with becoming a judge causes difficulty for Gwen in her relationship with her rebellious 15-year-old daughter, Ashleigh. She believes that a rich but jealous White man, Dirk, can help her retain the judgeship when she gets it. Foolishly, she marries him with no thought of how it will affect Ashleigh, thus bring more trouble down on her head. She also has to cope with her ex-husband and Ashleigh’s father, Kwame, and her friend Willette’s husband, Michael, who blackmails her into having repeated sex with him, which she admits she enjoys, after a one-time affair. Trying to cope with all these problems and comfort, at times, her drug-using friend C. C., who is a judge, causes Gwen to make some poor decisions.
Gwen’s first opportunity for a judgeship ends in disappointment when Willie Shalander, the powerful County Commissioner who controls the appointments of Blacks to judgeships, gives the next opening to someone else. She accepts an appointment to a part time position as a municipal court judge because she believes Willie when he promises he will take care of her next time. Willie’s murder dashes her expectation of a superior court judgeship. The appointment of Willie’s daughter Willette, with whom Gwen attended law school, to replace him on the County Commission, revives her dream of becoming a superior court judge.
Her troubles really begin when she leaves her private practice to become Willette’s assistant. Willette arranges for her appointment as special prospector to handle the case of Charles Garrett, Willie’s alleged killer. From Marvella, Willette’s mother, she learns that Charles Garrett knew something about Willie’s business affairs. Breaking the rules to get at the truth, she talks with Garrett without his attorney present. He suggests that she investigate a certain property Willie, and now Willette, owns. The property is a crack house and the records prove it belonged to Willie.
Gwen learns later from Kwame, who was Garrett’s lawyer, that Willette has hired a lawyer to defend Garrett. This makes her curious but not yet suspicious because Willette is her friend. However, Garrett is killed and Willette fires her. She now realizes that something is not right and turns detective, sort of.
From C.C., Gwen discovers that Willette knew about her and Michael all the time because he talks in his sleep and that C. C. killed Willie for Marvella, Willette’s mother. C. C. did it because she and Marvella are lovers. Willie got Willette pregnant when she was in college and for that, his wife hated him.
When C. C. dies mysteriously while she is with Gwen during drug induced haze, Gwen realizes that Willette has set her up to be framed for the murder. She escapes being accused of murdering Garrett and C. C. because of lack of evidence. She returns to private practice and finally realizes that in her ambition to become a judge she “was taking every shortcut known to man…”
When I read a novel in which several murders occur, I expect them to be solved. In SHADES one of the characters confesses to the murder of Willie. Bullard leaves hanging the other two murders but suggests who the killer is and the motives. I will not spoil the story by revealing the name of the killer or how Gwen exacts her kind of justice on Michael and Willette.