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Thursday, February 10, 2022

BOOK REVIEW: Mississippi Reckoning by Mitchell Zimmerman

Page-turning crime thriller for the times we live in

By Will Collette

Here we are in the middle of Black History Month, but millions of white Americans don’t want their children to be taught anything about black history. 

The John Lewis Voting Rights Act has just been obstructed by every Senate Republican, aided by two DINOs, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

Mississippi Reckoning is a fine book to read, even without these current news events, but more so because of them.

As a fan of crime fiction, I can distinguish between good versions of the genre and the bad. Mitchell’s book is not only well-written, but he adds interest by setting up a challenging set of twists and turns in geography and in time.

I can usually guess the ending of many crime thrillers, but not this one.

Without giving you any spoilers, there are two main plot lines that intertwine throughout the book, linked by the theme of justice and by the main character, attorney Gideon Roth.

The book opens on Gideon Roth’s client, Kareem Jackson, preparing to be executed for a brutal murder. Jackson was heavy drug user and stone killer who understood he was guilty. Gideon’s best case outcome was to get Jackson’s death sentence commuted to life without parole. He failed and watched Jackson die at the hands of the state.

The other main plot line begins during Freedom Summer, 1964, when hundreds of white students and activists travelled south to help black activists in the big push for voting rights.

Young Gideon Roth was among them and found himself on duty at the Mississippi office of the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) the night that James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were kidnapped and murdered by the Klan near Philadelphia, MS.

Gideon’s role that night was to use a WATS line to the Justice Department to bring in agents to rescue the kidnapped civil rights campaigners. He did not succeed and carried guilt for that failure for years to come. That guilt was heightened when the murdering Klansmen were caught and only received light sentences for the brutal slaying.

After watching Kareem Jackson’s execution, Gideon’s life fell apart. As he was trying to cope with this, his mind went back to those days in Mississippi and how differently the Klansmen were treated compared to Kareem – three year sentences for three brutal murders compared to the gas chamber for one heinous killing.

These thoughts led Gideon on a cross-country quest to seek, if you’ll pardon the cliché, truth and justice.

He wanted to know why Kareem Jackson became an irredeemable criminal and why the Klansmen in Mississippi literally got away with murder. And Gideon also wanted to figure what he could and should do about it.

I loved this part of the book as Mitchell set each new scene bringing alive a different period of history or vividly describing a different part of the country, while relentlessly moving toward the book’s climax.

I had a feeling this was going to be a good book. I have enjoyed reading Mitchell Zimmerman’s political writing for quite a while and have re-printed twenty of his essays in Progressive Charlestown.

In his own life, there are unmistaken resemblances between Mitchell’s life and that of his lead character, Gideon Roth. Mitchell also defended death row defendants. Unlike Gideon, Mitchell succeeded in getting one client off of San Quentin’s death row after a 22 year court battle. Mitchell was also a civil rights worker in Arkansas, Georgia and Mississippi during the 1960s.

His experiences give this book its authenticity. His use of history makes this book illuminating. And Mitchell’s writing style makes it a joy to read.