Well it had to happen sometime. David W. Marston, a former United States Attorney, republican candidate for mayor of Philadelphia and now big firm member (Gibbons Del Deo, Corporate) has just published a review of INDEFENSIBLE this weekend in the Baltimore Sun.
Now having a former US Attorney who writes about the FBI review INDEFENSIBLE is a bit like asking James Dobson for his opinion of a Maplethorpe exhibit. Marston’s reaction isn’t particularly surprising, (though it’s always disappointing to learn that someone doesn’t love you). Indeed his criticisms are not only precisely what one would expect from a former prosecutor, but they actually nicely demonstrate why many prosecutors just aren’t my people. Basically, he can’t stand the tone, is appalled at the attacks on prosecutors and judges, and is perturbed by the lack of footnotes. Looking closely at the critique it becomes clear that Marston gets upset at any overt challenge to the existing power structure. Also predictably, Marston has trouble with the notion that the diagnosis of a malady doesn’t always necessitate a prescription.
Rather hilariously, Marson leads with an “Author’s note” attack, arguing that because I put made a small handful of changes to push the narrative along that the whole book is untrustworthy. He does this, I should add, while screwing up his own facts--the book ends after 1:00 A.M not 10:18 p.m, and it compasses far more than 12 hours. He therefore manages two identifiable factual errors in the second and third sentences of a 800 word review while attacking errors he can’t identify in a 95,000 word book. Marston follows up by asserting (wrongly) that INDEFENSIBLE is not a single day (it is). And concludes with no basis whatsoever that this seriously undermines the books critique.
Now that folks is a classic prosecutor argument. Yes, everything in the book may be true, but damn it, if something happened on a different date you should ignore the whole critique. Marston is also disturbed that there isn’t a bibliography. In this he sounds like my old, slightly senile U.S history teacher who used to hector nonsensically about sources. Um—what books or sources exactly should I have been citing? I wasn’t going to quote transcripts—if I did, Marston would have complained about naming client names and reported me to the disciplinary committee. Should I have included pages of “Feige day experience…” IBID…?” It just seems silly to me. I lived it, and if Marston isn’t willing to believe that, that’s his prerogative but “I don’t buy” it certainly doesn’t make for insightful critique. As for the Author’s note itself--had Marston turned in a memoir just weeks after the James Frey thing broke, I think he’d probably understand a bit better. But whatever. Taking a book down for including a conscientious authors’ note is a bit like calling a soldier a “pussy” for wearing an extra flak jacket.
As for his other quibbles, Marston hates that I’m late and seems mortified that I don’t wear a watch. Then again, prosecutors far more than defense lawyers are likely to be praised in their wedding toasts for being “punctual”.
Marston take umbrage too at my description of Dewey Ballentine the fancy law I worked at one summer. He writes that my description is a “ bizarre metaphor.” Now look, I don’t mean to quibble, but if you’re going to review books, you should be at least minimally in command of what a metaphor is. This isn’t one. I explain that Dewey proves a point Foucault makes in Discipline and Punish about social control. Most anyone who knows the book would understand this, and most everyone else would understand that analogy and metaphor are different things. Besides the one time I actually cite a source, Marston attacks—so much for that bibliography argument.
Now make no mistake about it—I welcome criticism, even by former prosecutors (Tom McKenna, a frequent sparring partner over at Seeking Justice actually just posted an interesting review charmingly titled Giving the Devil His Due) and some who have read the book have legitimate quarrels with my point of view and with my writing. Bring that on. I actually like it and even learn from it. But when you ask a guy who thinks like Marson to critique a book like this, I do think that the likely result is what we got--a bunch of picayune quibbles without a substantive basis beyond “you didn’t show your work.” And that’s too bad for all of us.