Sins of the Brother

Sins of the Brother

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Ever been to Mobile? It's an old, old city in southern Alabama that celebrates Mardi Gras the same way New Orleans does. Only, according to those in Mobile, they did it first. Mike Stewart's first novel starts in Mobile where Tom McInnes was practicing law with a large law firm, on the clock, running up enough billable hours to be old before his time. Without any fanfare, McInnes quit and was well on his way to failing as a solo practitioner when his mother called from Cooper's Bend, Ala., to let him know his younger brother, Hall, had died under somewhat mysterious circumstances.

Grabbed you yet? No? McInnes goes home to bury his brother, has a romantic tryst with his brother's girlfriend and discovers a cave full of drugs. How about that?

Mike Stewart, a lawyer who lives in Birmingham, Ala., is an excellent writer. Try this: "Moving across the current, the boat slid through black water as streaks of reflected moonlight angled away from the bow. An electric hum pushed the men quietly toward the far bank." Sure beats "it was a dark and stormy night" as an opening, doesn't it?

The boat slides deep into the southern woods, where Hall McInnes' life ends and Tom McInnes' life as a lawyer is interrupted. He is drawn from the easy life on Mobile Bay to intrigue in his old hometown. He buries his brother only to raise trouble with his family and friends.

You see, Tom McInnes is a jerk. He irritates his father, annoys the local sheriff and antagonizes a drug kingpin in Birmingham as he goes about trying to solve his brother's murder. Solve it he does, but that is when the intrigue begins. He knows too much and becomes a liability to one of the most powerful men in the state.

McInnes works his way through improbable circumstances, such as attempts to frame him for murder in New Orleans to the kidnapping of his secretary, to a somewhat satisfying ending. That is, it doesn't leave you hanging. This author actually finishes the novel, unlike others who leave you to conjecture.

The thing is that he doesn't get the girl. At least, I don't think so. But it doesn't matter. Mike Stewart is a wordsmith of the highest order. He builds images that are truly vivid but he doesn't wander about meaninglessly as he does it. The images involve action or lead to it. Descriptions of people and places are carefully constructed so that the characters are multi-dimensional—living, breathing—real.

While McInnes isn't a sympathetic or empathetic character, he is, in the end, comfortable and unpretentious. More vulgar than he has to be, the main character does stay within his character without deviation. You will know him quickly and, while you may not like him, you will enjoy his story.

The story is more than mystery and more than action or intrigue. It is introspection, friendship, loyalty, curiosity, betrayal and cunning. Hardly an emotion remains untouched as McInnes moves from searching for a killer to searching for salvation.

Woven into the fabric of the fiction is life as it is here in Alabama. It may well appear to be the way outsiders picture it, the well-worn way of television's stereotype of the South. But look harder and you will see flesh and blood and substance. There is a code and McInnes can break it because he grew up with it. There is an undercurrent to the flow of the soft, slow and lazy life in Coopers Bend. His brother's death was caused by living a sinful life. McInnes discovers and then suffers the sins of the brother. You will right along with him. Will you find redemption? I'm not saying—so you'll have to read the book. It could be a sin not to.

Journal Date: 
Friday, September 1, 2000