Like many, I never have enough time to read for pleasure. However, a few months ago, I picked up Crosstown Park and spent my entire Sunday in the “reading chair”. Thanks to Jennifer Willner, this week’s Guest Blogger, for providing this book review.
Crosstown Park (Koehler Books 2014) is the debut novel by Houston trial attorney, Melanie Bragg. It's a legal thriller, but there’s so much more to the story besides page-turning courtroom drama. Just released on October 1, 2013, Crosstown Park has achieved best seller status.
The story begins when Alexandria Stockton, a young successful trail attorney who has never lost a case, meets an African American minister, Reverend Morse, on a flight from New York to Houston. During the flight, the Reverend tells her of Shepherd’s Cottages, a foster home he started for at-risk inner city youth in a high crime ghetto of Houston. Reverend Morse is very troubled, and explains that one of his young foster home parents, Jose Gonzales, has been falsely accused of molesting a teenage boy in Crosstown Park, near Shepherd’s Cottages. Jose is in jail and is in desperate need of a lawyer to defend him. Alex acknowledges that she is a lawyer and the preacher is surprised, Alex looks more like a sophisticated urbanite than a hardened trial attorney.
Alex’s legal mind is engaged and she questions Reverend Morse why he believes Jose is innocent. The Reverend explains that the boy who accused Jose has an uncle who is a notorious criminal involved in drug and prostitution activities. The Reverend believes the uncle, who goes by the name of Voodoo, convinced the boy to make the accusation against Jose in revenge for Shepherd’s Cottages disrupting his criminal activities.
As Alex listens to the preacher’s story, her instincts take over and her long buried memories of her foster home background surface. Before the plane lands she has agreed to Jose’s case, pro bono. The reader soon learns that pro bono means that Alex has just agreed to prepare Jose’s defense and represent him in trial, for free.
Alex has only six weeks until the trial date to discover what really happened in Crosstown Park. The Reverend introduces her to Nick Wright, a handsome former cop-turned-security-company-owner, who volunteers at Shepherd’s Cottages and also attends the preacher’s sermons. Alex feels an immediate attraction to Nick but she ignores her feelings to concentrate on proving Jose innocent. All she needs is a witness who could testify to what really happened in Crosstown Park. But where is the witness? Does one even exist?
As the case progresses, Alex’s finds herself at a crossroads of personal, professional and spiritual choices. Her continued representation of Jose places her in grave personal danger. She is up against a politically ambitious prosecutor, a former lover, and a corrupt child protective services administrator who both want to see Alex fail. Her reputation, her perfect trial record and her future career as a judge are all on the line if she doesn’t find that witness.
The life changing crossroads that Alex confronts resonate with all readers. There is good versus evil, moral versus pecuniary gain, and a moral compass that appears to guide Alex’s decision making. This is a novel that does not read like fiction. Alex’s character is all too real, the events could have really happened, the courtroom drama meticulously accurate and the political intrigue realistically described.
So Crosstown Park isn't just a legal thriller, although it is definitely an exciting story. This book could very well be the one that changes your mind and your heart. You will weep with genuine joy when the story concludes. After reading this book, you will feel hopeful, optimistic, and motivated to create the same kind of meaning and change in your own life as Alex did in hers. Or, you will just think it’s an excellent, exciting story.
The novel has received rave reviews. The co-author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, Jack Canfield, wrote: “This thriller and courtroom drama is a definite page turner and also delivers a powerful message about the deeper meaning of life.” Readers are clamoring for the next novel in the series. We can only hope Ms. Bragg is working as hard on the next Alex Stockton novel as Alex herself.
In her trial practice, Ms. Bragg is a fierce defender of vulnerable populations, including children, the elderly and mentally ill. She is an experienced trail attorney with a reputation of zealous advocacy. Ms. Bragg has previously published an American Bar Association deskbook for lawyers. This is her first novel. Read. This. Book. You can find Crosstown Park on Amazon or go to your local bookseller and ask them to order a copy.