Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fatal Convictions--Defending an Imam Accused of an Honor Killing

I've been known to call Randy Singer the John Grisham of CBA and I'm sticking by that opinion. Except Randy's better. I always look forward to his next legal suspense and pick it up as soon as it's available. In Randy's novels you can expect well drawn characters in a hard-hitting legal situation. In other words, they're in a royal mess. And the subject matter typically isn't easy. Randy writes about issues others tend to leave alone.

Take his brand new release, Fatal Convictions. What is the protagonist--a Christian attorney--asked to do? Defend a Moslem imam in an "honor killing" case. Yikes. Whatever was that Singer guy thinking? Here's what he has to say for himself:

So, Randy, how did you come up with the idea for this story?

My idea for the book came when I asked this question: What makes To Kill A Mockingbird the best legal thriller of all time? My answer: Because Atticus Finch performed the highest duty of a lawyer, representing a man he believed was innocent, a man nobody else would defend. Then I asked a related question: What would that look like today? My answer was Fatal Convictions. A Christian lawyer defending a Muslim imam accused of honor killings.

Tell us a little about the plot.

Alex Madison is a Christian pastor and lawyer. (I know, a highly unusual combination!) He ends up landing a profitable personal injury case for a woman named Ghaniyah Mobassar, who happens to be the wife of a local Muslim imam. But when a different woman in the imam’s mosque is brutally murdered after she converts to Christianity, the imam is arrested for ordering the honor killing. Alex believes the imam is innocent and decides to defend him in the biggest murder case Virginia Beach has ever seen.

Alex immediately comes under fire from both the media and his own church members for taking the case. Things get complicated when the imam’s beautiful daughter arrives from Beirut, determined to help Alex out. Before it’s over, Alex will have to summon a level of courage and tenacity he never knew he possessed, defending a man whose culture is practically at war with everything Alex holds dear.

As the evidence mounts, so do Alex’s doubts. Is the imam an innocent reformer caught in an elaborate sting? Or is he a manipulative killer who will stop at nothing to advance the cause of Mohammed?

How did you research your book to ensure that the Islamic faith was realistically and fairly portrayed?

It was very important for me to portray Muslims authentically and accurately in this book. It was also important to show some of the diversity in the Muslim faith. Thus, the imam whom Alex defends is an ardent reformer (or at least he appears to be). For the nuances of this character, I relied heavily on the Islamic reformers portrayed in Joel Rosenberg’s excellent book Inside the Revolution. But there’s also a main character in Fatal Convictions named Hassan Ibn Talib, who is a committed Islamic radical. To portray Hassan accurately, I spent time with Kamal Saleem, a former Islamic terrorist and probably the most intense man I’ve ever met. With Kamal’s permission, I patterned the childhood, terrorist training and spiritual beliefs of my character after Kamal. In addition to this type of research, I’ve also spent time in Beirut, Lebanon, visiting my daughter who worked there with a ministry organization.

How prevalent are honor killings within the Muslim faith?

A lot more prevalent than most people realize. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions has reported honor killings in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, Sweden, Turkey, Uganda and the United Kingdom. According to the U.N.’s Population Fund, there are an estimated 5000 honor killings each year. In Egypt, 47% of the woman were killed (usually by a woman’s father or brothers) after the woman had been raped. Amnesty International even received a report about a man who killed his wife on the basis of a dream he had about her committing adultery.

Honor killing has found its way to the shores of America as well. For example, Fox News recently did a report on teenagers Amina and Sarah Said who were apparently killed by their father on New Year’s Day 2008 because they dated non-Muslim boys. There’s also the case of Faleh Almaleki in Arizona, who brutally beat his own daughter and then ran over her in his SUV to prevent her from dishonoring the family by adopting an American lifestyle. “For an Iraqi,” he said, “honor is the most valuable thing. No one messed up our life except Noor.” Sadly, Faleh’s wife supported him.

Now, you’re a lawyer…and a pastor…and so is your main character, Alex Madison. How closely does Alex’s life reflect your life?

I’ve been asked that question a lot. Other than our occupations, Alex and I have little in common. The church where I have the privilege of serving as pastor is very different than the quarrelsome and disputatious group that Alex pastors. I attended law school (and now teach at one), whereas Alex took the bar after serving a three-year apprenticeship with his grandfather. This is called “reading the law” and is one way to get a law license in Virginia. And while Alex and I are both trial lawyers, I’m not as theatrical and gimmick-driven as he is. I certainly don’t engage in the same shameless solicitation of clients—I’d prefer to keep my law license.

You like to address controversial issues in your novels—the last few have dealt with the insanity plea, gun control, and now, Muslim honor killings. Why do you choose controversial issues?

First and foremost, because I think addressing these controversial issues makes for interesting stories. We read stories with the heart. And when something is controversial we react strongly to it—in other words, it grabs our heart.

But the second reason I pick these kinds of areas is that I want to challenge readers to look at things through a slightly different lens. On controversial issues like these, we tend to construct a lot of automatic defenses and reactions when somebody asks us to look at these issues in a non-fiction context. But stories bypass those intellectual defenses and go right to the heart. And sometimes, by putting ourselves in the shoes of a character in the story, we can see these important issues from a slightly different perspective.

Isn’t that what Jesus did—address the hot button issues, like the legalism of the Pharisees, by telling a story? After all, who do you think the older brother represented in the story of the prodigal son?

Nearly every person who has been accused of a crime in this country has legal representation, no matter how heinous the crime. How does a lawyer defend someone when there is overwhelming evidence of guilt?

Since I try civil cases, not criminal cases, I’m not confronted with this dilemma. Personally, I really must believe in my client’s case to be an effective advocate. I’ll turn down cases I don’t believe in. But you are right, somebody has to defend those accused of a crime even when there is evidence of overwhelming guilt. And I believe that Christian lawyers can do this without compromising their integrity.

First, by remembering that as a lawyer, you are not the judge and jury. Many times, somebody will “appear” guilty at first blush, even though they are actually innocent. Under our system, as you mentioned, everybody is entitled to an advocate.

But second, for the Christian lawyer, by focusing on mercy and grace while realizing that it’s the job of the prosecutor to focus on bringing this person to justice. Look at the example of Jesus in John, chapter 8, when he advocated for the woman caught in the very act of adultery. Under the law, she was guilty. But Christ was able to save her through a “technicality” (let him who is without sin cast the first stone) and then he counseled her to “go and sin no more.” This is the model for Christian lawyers who find themselves in the same circumstances—advocate and counsel.

One of the things that you have said that you treasure is freedom of religion in this country. What does that mean on a practical level?

We need to remember that religious liberty is always eroded at the margins. This means that the unpopular faiths are limited first. That’s why, as Christians, we need to stand with members of other faiths when people attempt to curtail their religious liberties.

And we should also remember that nobody ever talks about taking away religious liberty, they just redefine what it means. Right now, we see that sharing your faith with somebody else, what the cynics call “proselytizing,” is frowned upon. So political correctness tries to redefine religious liberty to say you can believe what you want but nobody should try to impose their religion on someone else. That sounds a lot better than saying “no evangelizing,” but it means pretty much the same thing. And so we see lots of attempts to keep people from sharing their faith in various contexts.

Can you give us a sneak peek into what you’re working on next?

My next book is entitled The Last Plea Bargain. In it, I will shine a light on the wheeling and dealing that dominates our criminal justice system.

Most people don’t realize that 95% of the criminal cases in our country are disposed of by plea bargains. This book asks the question: What if the defendants in a certain jurisdiction banded together and decided not to plea bargain, insisting on a full jury trial for every case? It would overwhelm the system. There wouldn’t be enough prosecutors or public defenders or available court dates. Even the defendants who lost would be able to claim ineffective assistance of counsel or the lack of a speedy trial on appeal.

The Last Plea Bargain is a sequel to False Witness and continues the story of Jamie Brock, a young prosecutor. Because Jamie’s own mother was killed in a violent home invasion, Jamie takes every case personally. Unlike other prosecutors, she refuses to even consider plea bargains. And she has a longstanding personal vendetta against defense attorney Bosworth Tate, the man who represented Jamie’s mother’s killer.

When Tate is arrested for allegedly poisoning his wife, Jamie talks the district attorney into allowing her to handle the case. But when he is confined to jail, Tate rallies the other inmates and they all begin rejected plea bargains. Those who don’t are punished or killed by their fellow inmates. Snitches who cut a plea and get released are killed on the streets. Fear causes other would-be-snitches to clam up. And the criminal justice system grinds to a halt.

There is one way to break the logjam. But for Jamie Brock, it would violate every ideal that has governed her young career. To convict the devil, sometimes you’ve got to cut a deal with a few of his demons.

Or do you?

Okay, I'm ready. I want this book now!

So, Master Singer--final words?

Maybe an appropriate place to end would be with the last two paragraphs from my acknowledgements page:

This book is the story of an advocate who stands up for a client when, from all appearances, the man should be condemned. Come to think of it, that’s the story of my life.

“But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only for our sins but the sins of all the world.” 1 John 2:1-2.

Fatal Convictions at christianbook.com ($9.49)
Fatal Convictions at Amazon, paperback ($10.07)
On the Kindle ($9.57)
Paperback at Barnes and Noble ($10.07)
On the Nook ($9.59)


Lisa-Anne said...

Well, you got my attention, Brandilyn! And you have procured an eager new reader for Randy! :) Fantastic interview, thanks!

HollyMag said...

I love Randy Singer almost as much as I love your books!! :) Thanks for sharing this interview and info on the story. I look forward to reading this book.

barbjan10 said...

What an interview!! It is my loss thus far that I have not read any Randy Singer writing. That will change with Fatal Convictions. This is an extremely important work of art depicting the many sides of faith, beliefs, and customs. What Christian isn't shocked and dismayed at customs such as honor killings? In my mind that is nothing short of severe child and wife abuse, it's murder! I don't know if men who "sin" are treated equally in that faith, but whose ever lives are taken away, that's theft and stealing. I don't understand honor killings, especially for reasons where the blame of rape is placed on the woman. I probably sound quite naive and uninformed, and I admit that. I know I want to read Randy's story and find out the answers to many questions that his interview brought to mind. How will we and how do we deal with crimes of honor in this nation? Is this something lurking over our land that could destroy our very rights as Americans. Only God can say. What would Jesus do?

Sharing my faith,
Barb Shelton
barbjan10 at tx dot rr dot com

Mandy said...

I'm hooked! I've read two of his older books, and I'll add this to my list of books to look for! I agree, a bit like John Grisham; only better!