Review of Unreasonable Doubts
Writers are always told to “write about what you know,” and Reyna Marder Gentin takes this well-known piece of advice to heart in her intriguing novel Unreasonable Doubts. Relying on her knowledge from the years she spent as an appellate attorney representing criminal defendants, Gentin crafts a masterful tale. She uses her expertise and experience to create a compelling character, Liana, a petite 30-year old attorney who must make some difficult decisions about truth and lies, guilt and innocence, justice and injustice.
Liana begins her career as an idealistic attorney in the Public Defender’s Office in New York City after graduating from an Ivy League law school.
She believes that the criminal justice system works – that the guilty go to jail and the innocent go free. She sees herself as “Atticus Finch, fighting the uphill battle for the accused, losing most of the time but still feeling good about herself and her choices.”
But as the story progresses, something changes. After representing defendants accused of horrific crimes, she begins to question herself and her career choice. She ponders the question that people often ask her, “Is it just about doing your job, or do you hold on to a belief that the next guy who walks through the door might be someone who really deserves you?”
Her supervisor Gerry tells her that the job “requires heart” and that she must “treat each client as an individual, with hopes and dreams, deserving of our energy and skill and passion, no matter what he may or may not have done to land himself in our care.” Liana is chagrinned and disheartened. Gerry’s accusation that she wasn’t pro-defendant enough influences her to approach her next case differently and dangerously.
Her next client is a 26-year-old strikingly handsome man named Danny Shea, who has been convicted of rape in the first degree and is serving a sentence of 15 years. Even in the mug shot, he appears good-looking and Liana notices “his long wavy hair falling over his eyes, high cheek bones, and strong jaw.”
As she prepares her case, she wonders if Shea is finally the long-awaited innocent client — the one who is worth fighting for. Gentin skillfully takes the reader with Liana who comes ever closer to threatening situations as she flirts with danger and searches for answers on a journey for justice.
Gentin’s skill as a writer is evident as she connects her legal acumen with her storytelling talent, giving insight into the life of a public defender and guiding the reader through the legal process as the intriguing tale unfolds. Expertly woven into the story are Gentin’s compelling characters, including Jakob, Liana’s steady boyfriend who is ready for marriage, and Phyllis who is Liana’s mother.
Like any loving mother, Phyllis checks in with Liana and wants to know how her daughter is doing. Liana shares that Jakob loves his demanding job at a prestigious corporate law firm but she wishes they had more time to spend together even though she is not yet ready to tie the knot. Liana also shares that she and her boss don’t see eye to eye when it comes to defending clients but she says nothing to her mother about Danny Shea and the rules she’s broken in the attorney-client relationship.
“The real question,” Phyllis tells Liana, “is not whether your boyfriend is happy with you or your boss is happy with you but whether you are happy with yourself….. if you are in a good place, everything else will follow.”
But Liana is not in a good place because in both her personal and professional lives, she feels adrift. She loves Jakob but is not sure about their future together. Early in her career, her idealism influenced her to work on cases with energy and passion. Now her skepticism and motivational difficulties affect her approach to work. In the past, she had been “scrupulously careful to keep all her contacts with her clients professional,” but now she has let her guard down with Danny Shea.
Gentin keeps the reader wondering what will happen next as she masterfully leads the reader through the fast-paced legal drama. A series of twists and turns in both her personal and professional lives force Liana to figure out who she is and to make difficult choices about justice, faith and love.
About the author of our book review: The mother of six grown children, Lori R. Drake is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Mothers Always Write, San Diego Woman, the Gaithersburg Gazette in Maryland and the Daily Reflector in North Carolina as well as other publications. She has received four Honorable Mentions in the Writer’s Digest National Writing Competition. The founder and former Headmistress of Roseleaf Academy, the only girls’ school in eastern North Carolina, Lori is working on a book about her innovative school that has since closed. She currently teaches communications classes at her local community college.
REYNA MARDER GENTIN grew up in Great Neck, New York. She attended college and law school at Yale. For many years, she practiced as an appellate attorney representing criminal defendants who could not afford private counsel. Reyna studies at the Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College, and her fiction and personal essays have been published in print and online. She lives with her family in Scarsdale, New York. To learn more, please visit reynamardergentin.com.