Good Counsel -By Tim Junkin, 291 pages, $23.95, Algonquin Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Tim Junkin’s second novel features quite a cast of characters. Not the least among them is the Chesapeake Bay itself. While that might seem strange (we are talking about a legal thriller, here), it’s not surprising from an author who spent much of his childhood growing up near the marshes of Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
As with his first effort, The Waterman, Junkin uses the Bay not only as a pretty backdrop, but to create moods and to interact with the internal machinery of his human characters. For Good Counsel’s uberlawyer Jack Stanton, the Eastern Shore provides a place to hide out after he’s been indicted for lying under oath.
Stanton has spent his entire career defending people. Sometimes, he knew, those people weren’t innocent at all. Still, he did his duty and bent the truth until it suited his clients’ purposes. And he won case after case. But what price victory? Not only does Stanton eventually find himself holed up at an abandoned house overlooking a gurgling Eastern Shore backwater, he’s coming to believe that all those years of manipulating facts has done permanent damage to his soul.
Chesapeake images mirror Stanton’s condition, as in this description of Stanton’s remote Eastern Shore hideout: “The land here is empty and bleak. An endless flatness. A coastal plain leveled by glacial crush, bordered by the Chesapeake and the Atlantic. There are few windbreaks.” But getting back to the Bay’s earthiness is just what Stanton needs. He starts seeing the world fresh again, and begins trying to understand what has become of his tortured spirit.
While on the lam, Stanton meets an immigrant from Latin America named Muddy, who works at a nearby store where Stanton buys his booze and bait. She too is carrying her share of psychological weight, and the two form an unlikely bond. The secrets both Stanton and Muddy are sitting on begin to reveal themselves and come together in the narrative. Junkin does a superb job of weaving the two fates together and sending them toward the possibility, at least, of redemption.
Not only does Good Counsel celebrate the Chesapeake in a subtle way, it also celebrates the individual will to maintain - or regain - integrity as it seeks and attains justice in the face of extremely long odds.