The Final Case by David Guterson [8/10]

The Final Case” is a huge departure for esteemed novelist David Guterson, marketed as a literary courtroom thriller. Plotwise, that may well be accurate, but this novel is something else entirely, a discursive, emotional journey through evil and the love of a son for his father. When a writer adrift assists his ancient lawyer father defend two conservative religious fanatics, accused of killing an Ethiopian adoptee, at first the reader sashays along with Oregon intellectual minutiae and rituals, but soon the novel heats up into a coruscating depiction of humanity’s barbarity towards itself, all the while tenderly exploring the father-son dynamics. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a novel quite like this (and I’ve read more courtroom dramas and father-son dramas than I care to remember) and it took me a while to orient my thinking, but once I was in the grip of Guterson’s spell, well, I was utterly transfixed. The writing is almost leisurely, fully happy to dwell on testimony, a setting, the Seattle ambience, our hero’s inner life, yet the urgency of the story makes for a rapid, memorable read that has stuck in my craw ever since. The Final Case is unique, essential reading.

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