REVIEWS: McGonigle Canyon

Harriet Klausner – September 28, 1997:

Very good book by a very talented author.

They are the forgotten ones, who can work in the United States only if the can remain invisible. They put up with primitive living conditions because their meager wages are needed to support their families back in Mexico. Serafino Morales considers himself to be fortunate to be able to find work in the States as a fruit picker. However, his good luck turns bad when he witnesses Rogelio Carrasco illegally dump toxic waste in the nearby river that the workers use to obtain their water needs. The next day, Serafino observes Carrasco receiving a payment from a gringo, who happens to be the lobbyist of a prominent land developer. Carrasco beats Serafino up and steals the itinerant worker’s money. Knowing that he cannot allow the bully to take food out of his family’s mouth, an enraged Serafino kills Carrasco.

The case lands on the desk of Judith Thornton, Chief Deputy for the San Diego District Attorney’s Office. Judith is a bit surprised that such a trivial case lands in her lap, but soon learns that she is dealing with a potential political hot potato. As the wheels of justice turn, Judith with her newest and most troubled employee, find themselves in the midst of a high stakes real estate gamble in which the transient workers are expendable.

Patricia D. Benke exposes the plight of the migrant workers with gruesome but colorful language that highlights a social problem that is at best ignored and at worst lied about. The author makes the her audience care for their plight due to a believable story line that showcases that justice and the law are not necessarily equal. ABOVE THE LAW illuminates the legal system from an insider’s perspective, making it an even more compelling reading experience. Fans of the legal procedural sub-genre will want more books from the talented Ms. Benke.

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James F. Lindsay – December 25, 2004:

Justice Patricia Benke has written an insightful, compassionate novel about the people who suffer the consequences of the actions of those who are above the law. Set in present day San Diego County, Above the Law dramatizes how Southern California and its inhabitants, both legal and illegal, have been impacted by the need for water. Justice Benke vividly describes how the arid conditions in Mexico and the expense of shipping water from Northern to Southern California have combined to make the lives of desperate farm workers more tenuous and the reach of a powerful landowner/developer further beyond the long arm of the law.

Against this backdrop, Serafino Morales, a desperately poor Oaxacan Indian field hand, discovers a developer’s agent poisoning one of the last tomato fields in the county. A deadly confrontation between Serafino and the developer’s agent triggers District Attorney Judith Thompson’s race to find the connection between the murder and the toxic dumping on the tomato fields. Her investigation is aided by first-year attorney Peter Delgado, whose involvement in the investigation will chart the course of his life.

Written in the clear and concise style one would expect from an experienced appellate Justice who obviously has a passion for writing, Benke’s latest book should be a mandatory read for all new lawyers. In just a half-dozen sentences, Justice Benke delivers some of her hard-won legal wisdom acquired from years on the bench, a wisdom that some lawyers never earn.

But Above the Law is not just for lawyers. It is a book that anyone could enjoy. Because it is written in plain, ordinary language and because it is structured into short, action-filled chapters, it is a page-turner that leaves the reader rooting and hoping for justice.

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Richard Cowden – October 1, 2013:

Patricia Benke delivers yet another Fantastic book. Patricia’s explicit detail and knowledge of the law leads every reader through the chapters of “Above The Law!”. Thought provoking with pin-point accuracy of today’s current issues and trends in law enforcement, courts and society leave the reader with a thirst for more…. Can’t wait for her next Blockbuster!

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J. Pappas – September 19, 2015:

This book is extraordinarily well-written. The dialogue is coherent and cohesive, and the storyline is well-paced and never slows down. This makes the story easy to remember as you read. The ending is unexpected. But there is plenty of excitement along the way there. Because it is based on real people and real places in southern California, the descriptions of characters and places in the book are vivid and realistic.

The book reads fast. If you start it, you’ll finish it. However, the book says a lot. Its themes are inspiring, but at the same time, complex. Characters live the American dream, starting from farm workers to become lawyers or judges. In developing these characters, the book addresses the culture and lives of migrant latino/chicano farm laborers in Southern California. It recognizes the complexity and the integrity of their distinct heritage. So, this book is very respectful of the cultural diversity of immigrants across the southern U.S. border, be they Oaxacan, northerners, or Indians.

The timeless theme in this book is justice and law. The story speaks through the justice system and criminal law in this country. But it recognizes certain principles of justice sometimes go beyond any society’s laws. These principles, best characterized as principles of fairness, take control when society’s laws can’t, such as when societies clash.

Societies clash in McGonigle Canyon: Immigrant versus entrenched resident; environmentalism versus development; American law versus principles of eternal fairness; greed versus compassion.

It is all in this book, which is so easy and fun to read.

John Carney – September 19, 2015:

McGonigle Canyon is an interesting police procedural, more intelligent and deeper than most, but very readable. Where the book shines, however, is in its treatment of the characters, their relationship with each other and with the dynamics of the story. This sensitivity to people, their lives and problems raises the book above its genre.