By: Gerard Shirar
Publication Date: December 2017
Reviewed by: Barbara Bamberger Scott
Review Date: December 20, 2018
Sometimes the law of the land gives way to the law of the jungle; in this gripping crime novel, author Gerard Shirar shows both, up close and at times, very ugly.
Timothy Flaherty and Donny Faye were friends all through elementary and high school, their main link being sports. Timmy knew Donny was different from him – sometimes he had marks on his face, like he’d been hit, and he never talked about his home life. That only seemed to make the bond stronger.
When both young men are drafted and sent to Vietnam straight out of high school, that link is broken for years, as Flaherty goes to college and becomes an attorney while Donny turns to crime. And not just any crime. With nothing to lose after a dishonorable discharge from the military, he gets “work” with Percy Dwyer, a criminal overlord who needs a guy like Donny – to kill people who get in Dwyer’s way. Faye and Flaherty are destined to meet again, when Faye finds himself framed by his pitiless boss.
Told in two parts, Shirar’s narrative doesn’t spare any nerve endings. Faye’s life path as recorded by Flaherty began when his brutal father told him he was “an accident.” Faye goes on to justify his own cold savagery with the street-wise logic that “I only did to him what he would have done to me.” Even when he tries to confess, a priest will not absolve him, so he gives up on religion, relying instead on something called “Him” who might be God, an angel or the devil. Flaherty meanwhile is learning the multi-layered morality of the legal profession that can involve cutting deals while making life-or-death decisions – no more crucial than when he finds himself defending his old friend, whose sins are many, and hard to stomach. The dilemma he faces as a lawyer - and as a human being - is whether there is a good choice, and whether he will make it.
Shirar, as an Army veteran and former attorney, has walked some of the walk he so intently details. He writes with admirable confidence, not a word out of place. His story hinges on the teetering balance between two versions of justice. In the first half of the book, we see how a man can be degraded without becoming a total monster, and in the second, how a man may, when called upon, do the wrong deed for the right reason. The reader can readily visualize the ambience Shirar so vividly depicts, from the gloomy underworld peopled by street thugs to the lofty and sometimes conflicted realms of legal power.
Quill says: Readers will find themselves picturing Shirar’s When the Rules Don’t Apply as a gritty, noire film, and will hope to see more output from this talented wordsmith.