3 out of 4 stars
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Mr. Prosecutor is a non-fiction memoir written by retired Prosecuting Attorney, Terry D. Jones. Sub-titled 25 Years Fighting Crime in the South, the book covers the time when he prosecuted cases in the 4th Judicial District of Arkansas. He first went to Fayetteville to attend the University of Arkansas in 1967, when Fayetteville was a small college town. He married his wife in the Lutheran Church in the town, set up a private law firm there, became the Prosecuting Attorney for the City of Fayetteville and, in short, never left.
The book is an account of the people the author worked with, the clients he met, and the cases that he prosecuted. These range from the trivial driving offenses to the more high-profile cases, such as the murder of Billie Jean Phillips, the homicide case that took up a great deal of the author’s time and details of which crop up at several points throughout the book. All his characters and stories, taken together, provide a fascinating picture of the workings of the justice system and, indeed, of life itself, in small-town rural America. The book is over 500 pages long, including the appendices and an index. It feels much shorter, however, as the chapters or sections are mostly brief affairs, some consisting of just a single page of writing.
The author has a conversational style of writing that also seems to shorten the book. He makes you feel like he is sitting beside you telling you the story – and he is a good storyteller. He paints pictures for the reader. When he describes the Madison County Sheriff, Ralph Baker, as someone who ‘dressed like a Country Rock Star – black jeans and a sequined black shirt and had the wide reputation as a ladies man’, (p73) you immediately have an image of the man in your head.
Jones tells us that he has changed a few names, ‘to protect the innocent, or the stupid, or because I could not remember who the hell they were’ (p xvii). Otherwise, he tells his stories with unyielding candor. He gives us graphic descriptions using uncompromising language. There are many cases he recalls which involve rape, murder, and casual brutality. If he doesn’t get nightmares from some of the traumatic cases he encountered it is because he can compartmentalize the horror and keep it at a distance. ‘I don’t think I ever let them seem real to me. They were just facts, like numbers, which needed to be dealt with.’ (p492)
The book isn’t all tough scenes and grim stories, though. There are parts of the book that are genuinely funny, such as the list of excuses from drivers charged with speeding: ‘my eyesight is so bad I couldn’t see the speedometer’ was one gem which caught my eye! Additionally, the writer laces his yarns with the slightly cynical tone and dark humor of a man who has spent his working life dealing with criminal behavior.
I am giving this book 3 stars out of 4. I am deducting one star on account of the errors I found scattered across its pages. These are minor matters and in no way detracted from my enjoyment of the book. I recommend the book to fans of crime or legal memoirs. Readers who are offended by cursing or by candid discussions of sex should let this one go by, as should anyone who might be triggered by accounts of rape and extreme violence.
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