(Editor’s note: This 57th entry in our “Story Behind the Story” series introduces to The Rap Sheet Hubert Crouch, a veteran trial lawyer practicing in Dallas, Texas. He’s the author now of two legal thrillers, the latest being The Word, which was released earlier this month--in print and e-book versions--by Serpentine Books.)
Having been a trial lawyer for a number of years, I’ve handled cases that are a testament to the old adage that “fact is stranger than fiction.” A macabre grave robbery was the impetus for one of the more bizarre cases I handled, and served as the inspiration for my first novel, Cried for No One (2013). Critics and readers alike said they loved that book and wanted to see more of its hard-charging
trial lawyer, Jace Forman, his resourceful paralegal, Darrin McKenzie, savvy police detective Jackie McLaughlin, and up-and-coming journalist Leah Rosen. Gratified, I began writing the sequel.
While I had always planned on penning a trilogy of novels featuring these characters, I had not decided on a central theme for the second book. It was during the course of teaching Free Speech and the First Amendment to undergraduates at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, that the theme finally began to form. One of the cases we examined in class was Snyder v. Phelps. The Snyder case addressed the question of whether a religious group had the First Amendment right to protest at the funerals of fallen soldiers. The United States Supreme Court held that it did. The Court’s decision was hotly debated in my class: Did the Court correctly balance the right of a family burying a loved one with the right of a religious sect to voice its views?
With the Snyder case in mind, I thought back on a wedding I had attended several years prior. During
the ceremony the presiding minister emphasized the importance of the bride being submissive to her husband. He based his lesson on Ephesians 5:22-24 (ESV): “Wives,
submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also should wives submit in
everything to their husbands.”
That message troubled me. Why should a woman be submissive to her husband? Shouldn’t husband and wife be equal partners in the commitment they are solemnly undertaking? Does scripture mandate unquestioning obedience from the wife even if she genuinely believes her husband is morally or legally wrong?
The passage raised an even more fundamental issue for me. Don’t we have the obligation to read and carefully consider what we profess to believe? So, with study guides in hand, I did something I had never done before–I read the Bible from beginning to end. And what a rewarding, enlightening and, at times, confusing journey it was! In considering the differing interpretations that have been given to identical verses by scholars, rabbis, priests, and ministers over time, I often wondered whether anyone had the “true” answers as to what certain passages in the Bible actually meant. No doubt, many have professed with unwavering conviction to know the true--and only--meanings. But do they really? These musings spawned one of the central figures in my second Jace Forman novel--a self-assured, narcissistic “prophet” who leads his followers on a misdirected, pain-inflicting odyssey.
The importance of this central theme has recently been graphically spotlighted by current events--most recently, the atrocities committed by ISIS
and the senseless murders of political satirists in Paris. How could any so-called religious belief require the beheading of human beings? What religious justification could there be for the gruesome executions of unarmed journalists/cartoonists?
The perversion of religion is nothing new. It has occurred time after time, century after century--charismatic, power-hungry individuals preaching intolerant, judgmental doctrines that fit their purposes. Their messages all have a common commandment: follow my rules and teachings lest you be doomed to eternal damnation or, more immediately, lose your head (literally). Unquestioning obedience to another’s agenda--whether it be a movement, a religion, or a person can lead down a dangerous path with dire consequences--a path I explore in my new, second book, The Word.
(Left) Author Hubert Crouch
Intertwined with religion and freedom of speech, women’s rights are a central focus of The Word. My interest in women’s rights was piqued in the late 1960s and early ’70s as I watched demonstrations staged by Gloria Steinem and others. At the time, it was more abstract than personal. But that changed in my last year of law school.
One of my close friends and study partners graduated number one in our class and yet received a cold shoulder from premier law firms when applying for employment. Why? There could only be one answer--my friend was a woman. Rather
than accept this inequity, she and several of my other female classmates filed suit, and a settlement was reached with the firms in question, opening the doors of opportunity for countless female law students who graduated in the years
after. I’ve dedicated The Word to their courage and convictions.
So, what’s The Word about? Self-proclaimed prophet Ezekiel Shaw and his fanatical followers travel the
country staging protests at the funerals of fallen soldiers. But when they disrupt the funeral of Second Lieutenant Lauren Hanson, a West Point graduate killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, they find themselves being relentlessly pursued through the courts by Fort Worth trial attorney Jace Forman, who is determined to put an end to their crazed crusade, no matter the cost.
Kirkus Reviews remarks that “the pages all but turn themselves as each scene builds on the next,” and calls the novel “a topical, lively legal thriller.” Meanwhile, the book review Web site Readers’ Choice warned readers, “Be ready for a wild ride! … Corruption, greed, and danger criss-cross with the pursuit of honesty and truth for a page-turning, action packed story. ... The
writing is high caliber and the story is engaging and realistic, with memorable characters. Top notch.”
I wanted to write a novel that was exciting as well as provocative. Based upon these early reviews, it seems I’ve accomplished that goal.