The Curse of Sacerdozio by Glen Aaron achieves a feat that few novels can boast: it succeeds in effortlessly encompassing multiple disciplines. Framed as a mystery and crime drama, Glen also gives readers character psychology, cultural and historical references and legal analysis and interpretation. The novel entertains as it educates allowing the reader to be both intrigued and informed.
At the heart of this book is main protagonist Tommy Jon, an intelligent, sensitive Native American whose hard work in law school has secured for him a coveted clerkship with a Supreme Court Justice upon his law school graduation. For most law students, a Supreme Court clerkship is the epitome of achievement and the gold ticket” to future opportunities at prestigious and lucrative big law firms. Yet, for Tommy, his clerkship is fraught with heartache. Justice Sacerdozio’s conservative philosophies run counter to Tommy’s liberal ideologies, particularly in the tribal litigation currently before the Court. Consequently, the two men are the thorns in each other’s sides and professional beliefs feed personal animosities. It isn’t long before one of them becomes a crime victim and the other is accused of the crime. When this happens, the novel moves into high gear taking the reader is along for the ride.
Glen Aaron is masterful at description and equally adept at crafting emotion. We see and feel what Tommy sees and feels, so it’s easy to become fully invested in the character. The Native American culture that is pivotal in shaping the man that Tommy also serves as an important vehicle of the plot. Further, Aaron establishes the historical foundation and traditions that influences Tommy. This writing strategy lets the reader get inside Tommy’s brain and walk the journey with him.
The crime drama is methodically presented, intense and reaches a dramatic conclusion. As a law school graduate, I was especially impressed by how Aaron paid attention to both criminal law and statutory detail. The courtroom scenes were among my favorites because I found myself (even though I was a reader) actively partaking in both direct and cross examination and anticipating the judicial rulings.
In addition, the crime and the legal ramifications are but one facet to a story that also is rich in political intrigue and religious questions. This book walks a careful line because it is able to avoid coming off preachy. The reader is left to formulate his or her own opinions.
Justice Sacerdozio is a complicated man and a character who quickly emerges as one of the antagonists in this tale. I found it hard to feel sympathy towards him although I remained very much interested in his backstory. Because Sacerdozio is a crucial domino in a larger mystery, it is wise for the reader to pay attention to early scenes and dialogue involving Sacerdozio and other supporting characters. Aaron is a clever writer; he skillfully uses foreshadowing and suspense hooks throughout the book. Even when I felt that I knew where the plot was leading, I was later pleasantly surprised. I would argue that this quality of thinking that you have the mystery figured out yet being given given other possibilities to question is something that a reader endorses when deciding to tackle a crime drama/mystery.
Tommy Jon is the the focal point of the book so it makes sense that the story gravitates around him. He is well-developed and well-written. I applaud Aaron’s writing style because he negotiates so many characters on his fictional landscape. Description and dialogue is dynamic and realistic in lending credibility to the narrative. However, less developed in this story is Tommy’s fellow law clerk and romantic interest Catherine Welch. Catherine is an important catalyst in some of the plot angles, but I really couldn’t get as much of a sense of her as a character. Her appearances in the story were minimal. I didn’t find myself as invested in her as a character as I would have liked. I didn’t find myself believing that she and Tommy were a love match. To Aaron’s credit, my interpretation wasn’t enough to subtract from the well-written, exceptionally strong narrative that Aaron executed.
I highly recommend this book.