Once Upon a Lie ISBN: 9781938288661, Terra Nova Books, an e-book by Michael French.
Plot: Jaleel is a 12-year-old black boy growing up in a small Texas town in the 1970’s. He is highly intelligent and a gifted athlete with high hopes of playing professional baseball. Unfortunately his father fights with a white man, is fired and upon returning home is severely upbraided by his wife during dinner preparation. Already distressed to the breaking point, he draws a gun and kills her, then turns the gun on his son telling him to run, then kills himself. The stunned child eventually recovers enough to call emergency. He is placed in a children’s home, but a detective known for aggressive and often ‘not exactly within legal bounds’ investigative activity pushes for a murder charge against the boy. With help from an older inmate he escapes from the home, catches a bus where he meets an unusual traveler who also saves him from apprehension by police. The traveler is an immigrant from Holland and a ‘professional do-gooder’ who provides him with a new identity, money and basic instructions on how to survive, which he does quite admirably by applying his basic intelligence and instincts to engage in adroit maneuvering. The reader next is introduced to Alex, teenaged daughter of a highly successful co-founder of one of LA’s most prestigious law firms, his socially prominent wife and Alex’s younger somewhat ‘nerdy’ brother all completely ensconced in an enclave of the area’s elite. On a bicycle ride beyond the normally set parental limits, and actually in rebellion against these and other constant parental demands and admonitions, she meets Jaleel and a strange relationship develops where eventually she asks him to do a favor. Against his better judgement he complies and is seen in Alex’s wealthy neighborhood at a time when her father’s best friend is murdered. Again, he must flee because again he is accused of murder. Once more he establishes a new life while Alex’s life becomes one of tremendous upheaval. Then gradually as the lives of the two protagonists unfold separately but in an gradually closely entwining manner, the story progresses with numerous encounters, twists and turns to reach a climax that is logical but one that may prove somewhat surprising to some. The author also provides a number of additional interesting characters throughout the book.
Discussion: This is a fictional story of considerable length and detail that is based upon, and quite clearly illuminates, some of the most glaring of today’s societal problems – class inequities, the loosening of moral codes and their sequellae, the attitudes and excesses of the privileged, race relations, police injustices, and the duplicity and corruption that exists among many members of the legal system where the most important feature of a case appears to be if it is won or lost with the guilt or innocence of the individual largely secondary.
Conclusion: A most insightful fictional but fact based examination of several of today’s most prominent social problems in, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, a non-pessimistic presentation.
5* Long, fact based fiction interestingly and insightfully scrutinizing social problems.