I’m Joe Lovell, a trial lawyer from Amarillo, Texas, here to tell you about Amarillo, a crime and courtroom novel by Bill Durham, set in -- you guessed it – my town.
This book is called Amarillo and it’s about a broke, lonely, disenchanted, sober-alcoholic, Jewish criminal defense lawyer from Brooklyn, whose car breaks down in Amarillo on the way to Phoenix, during the middle of a cold, fall dust storm, leaving him to find work so he can fix his car and blow on down the road.
Yes, I can just hear the groans. But, hold yer horses, pardner. That backstory is ... well, ... conceivable. One of my favorite real-life lawyers started where his car broke down – right here in Amarillo.
Like our protagonist, Max Friedman, Ron Nickum did not have enough money to keep a-goin. They both found work, learned to love the land and its people, and stayed. Now, Ron is a whole ‘nother story. But, with him in mind, I kep’ on a-readin’.
They say you should write what you know. Did our author, a thespian from Los Angeles, with a bachelors’ degree in Theatre Arts, and a Masters in English earned from New York University, write what he knew? Crime and people and life up on the Llano Estacado? If a feller’s got the nerve to name his book “Amarillo,” he better by gosh know what he’s a-talking about.
Well, Durham may not know the nitty gritty particulars of a trial, but he knows drama, he knows horses, he knows life and folks and the little towns up here on the Llano, and, yessir, he knows Amarillo. Max Friedman hits town in a sandstorm after an intimidating passage by “The Big Cross” at Groom. With a literary “wink,” Durham lets us know he is a “pan-handlin’, man-handlin’, post-holin’, high-rollin’, dust-bowlin’ daddy.” He hails from Muleshoe (or, as they say in New York, Muh-lay-show), got that bachelor’s degree from Texas Tech, and has done his time on them four lanes ‘a hard Amarillo Highway.
One cannot describe our weather, our skies, our stars, and our sunsets, as Durham does, without having been in, under, and among them. One cannot describe with such elegance the softness of a horse’s nose, without having felt that nuzzle. One can certainly not so accurately tell of that first ride on the high flats in the crisp pre-dawn to witness the glory of a sunrise over the Palo Duro Canyon, without having actually done it.
In Amarillo, New York Jewish attorney Max Friedman earns the love and respect of a wide range of real High Plains characters — a tough, no-nonsense, beautiful truck-driving horse-woman who owns a pool hall; an actual cowboy, chinks, spurs, cow-stuff and all; a tough but kind police chief and his wise-cracking lieutenant; the cold and vivacious district attorney; the beat-down wife of his most notorious client; a smattering of criminal n’er-do-wells; and, of course, a wolf.
Much of the story occurs only a few blocks from my house, at a pool-hall Durham named Bailey’s, after its loyal, wise, and very effective bouncer — the wolf. We are taken to the likes of Midnight Rodeo and The Big Texan, and wind up occasionally at an old, long abandoned drive-in movie theater on the Borger Highway – The Comanche -- with its aged and peeling likeness of Quanah Parker. While the author’s many descriptions of the High Plains weather are a bit overblown (pun intended), Durham understands our who-knows-what weather, and the pride we take in our ability to withstand and even relish it.
Though only a small part, this is really a courtroom drama, because it is there we find the real story of the crime and its defense. It is that defense, provided by our out-of-place protagonist, that ultimately delivers that which drives the defendant, and his defender
Like anybody else who stays long enough to wear out a pair of boots here in Amarillo, Max, though out of place, eventually finds his place. That’s what we all hope for, whether in Brooklyn or Amarillo, or even Muleshoe. Finding our place. Finding our people. Finding our purpose. Doing something worthwhile, for somebody, whether or not they deserve it. More than crime and punishment, this is a story of redemption — who gives it, who gets it, and who accepts it. We all sure need it.