Finishing Machine Book Review: Not a Legal Thriller, It is Reality
I originally downloaded this book through Kindle Unlimited (KU). If I returned the book after I finished it, I would lose it in my library. I thought this was good enough to go back and buy it because I knew I would want to talk about it with my friends and I wanted to have it available for reference. This is the first book for which I have done this.
Finishing Machine by Mike Arnold and Emelia Gardner is a legal thriller as exciting as but different from novels by John Grisham. Grisham’s works may have basis in reality, Arnold’s publication is a description of a process resulting in a reality for Gerald Strebendt. Throughout this review, I will refer to Arnold’s novel, and Arnold, because he acts as primary narrator as well as lead attorney for Strebendt. Emelia Gardner as second-cited author also functioned as an attorney who sometimes reined in Arnold when he went “off-message.”
There are no surprise spoiler endings to this novel. As a matter of history, readers know what happened. The value of the book is in the process, how the process went through several modifications as positive and negative information about client Strebendt emerged. If there was any surprise, it is revealed by Arnold near the end of the novel. The surprise is about Arnold, not Strebendt. While I will not say what it is, should a reader want to skip ahead and read it, the entire read from beginning to end would be seen in a slightly different light. Not good, not bad, but different. So for people who can’t stand to wait, go ahead, treat yourself; it takes nothing away from the story.
George Strebendt killed a man. The law used a legal definition of murder and charged George with the crime. But the legal definition of murder is more complex than the dictionary definition. In determining sanctions for a killing, the law (in Oregon) differentiates Murder from Manslaughter One, Manslaughter Two, and Criminally Negligent Homicide (CNH). These are charges made by the state and are different from a defense strategy, such as justifiable homicide. There was no doubt George Strebendt killed David Crofut. What was the motive? Was the killing justified? What consequences should George expect to face? The last two questions will be answered in a legal context. Possible answers to the first question will be explored both inside and outside a legal context.
There are at least two battles being fought throughout this novel. The determination of what is “Truth” or “Justice” takes a back seat to the question of “Proof.” This is the first battle, a legal one. We know George shot David; we have proof. Did George intend to shoot David, did he have a propensity for violence as a result of his military training and martial arts expertise? That would be difficult to impossible to prove. The exploration of this question is presented by Arnold in conversations held with George as Arnold attempted to fashion a strategy that would award George a judgment deemed to be just.
The second battle might be termed the “humanitarian” or psychological, personal battle. We see this in the narratives Arnold supplies as we see a change in the reflections of George as he revisits the scene of the immediate crime and his past life as he examines what led him to this point. Not only do we see George’s battle, we see the internal battles that Arnold faces. The proceedings leading up to trial are lengthy and complex. Arnold spends much time in reflection. His background and George’s background have many similarities. Apart from personal reflection, Arnold becomes disenchanted with some basic elements of judicial procedure. It seems all judges may not be totally dispassionate. Judges may influence the results of a trial through such processes as administrative gag orders thus limiting the opportunities to seek public commentary and discover witnesses.
There is a lot of value to this book for those who follow “Law and Order” or “CSI.” Even though I am ex-law enforcement, I sometimes don’t question some of what I see or I dismiss it as entertainment without giving it serious thought. I would like to interview a client (or suspect) alone, not with a supporting person. But why can’t I sometimes interview someone accompanied by an emotional supporter such as a parent or someone who could encourage an introvert to be more forthcoming? Arnold explains it with this legal justification “A judge can invalidate the privilege if a third party sits in on a conversation.” (loc 419-420).
This almost absolute power of a judge will be revisited many times in this story. I looked at a few reviews and a version of the following question appeared a few times. “Who knew the power of a judge could …” There is an answer. Judges and their colleagues know. The police know. Courtroom personnel such as Bailiffs (I was one) know. And probably Arnold knew but prior to this case had never seen it applied in such a vigorous way that stifled his planned defense.
This is a great read. It is the only novel I ever purchased AFTER I read it.