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June 21, 1991 - Image 67

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-06-21

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

ENTERTAINMENT

ALYSSA GABBAY

Special to The Jewish News

F

or years, writer Philip
Friedman winced
every time he watched
an episode of "L.A. Law" or
"Perry Mason." Trained as a
lawyer, the New Yorker
knew many of the courtroom
scenes in the shows were
grossly inaccurate.
Last year, Mr. Friedman
presented a hardfisted re-
sponse to these breaches of
truth — a best-selling novel
called Reasonable Doubt.
An intricate melodrama
set in Manhattan,
Reasonable Doubt tells the
story of a former federal
prosecutor who defends his
daughter-in-law against the
charge of murdering his son.
Along the way, the novel
leads readers through the
complexities of New York's
court system with impec-
cable accuracy.
"I wanted to give people a
window on a world that they
wouldn't normally see, and
to do it with some fidelity,"
said Mr. Friedman during
an interview in his
Manhattan apartment. "I
didn't want to create a fan-
tasy world that has the trap-
pings of reality."
Whether it's because of its
adherence to truth, or its
provocative plot, the book is

Alyssa Gabbay writes from
Baltimore, Md.

FIE
"SLISPENSE
THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

"Extraerdinarity effective...
sin g ...Gripping.'"
Ingen io us...Engros

NEVVSWEEK

Philip Friedman

Philip Friedman tried to make his novel's court scenes realistic, yet
engrossing.

Murder Most Legal

Philip Friedman has a bestseller
in his courtroom drama,
Reasonable Doubt.

a resounding success. It hit
The New York Times Book
Review paperback bestseller
list last October, and has
remained there for more
than a dozen weeks,
reaching the number three
spot in mid-November.
The book's critical recep-
tion has been more mixed.
Calling it "riveting," Enter-
tainment Weekly lauded the
book's crisp writing and in-
genious plotting.
Newsweek's Peter Prescott
also gave the novel a
thumbs-up review, praising
the "ingenious legal
dilemmas that Friedman
keeps inventing." But Mr.
Prescott said the book was
flawed by the characters'
lack of credibility. The New
York Times Book Review,
too, claimed that many of
the book's characters are
merely `.`stick figures."
"I try to understand the
criticism, to the extent that I

can understand it, and I try
to learn from it," said Mr,
Friedman, a slight, wiry
man who bears a close
resemblance to actor
Richard Thomas. "But
sometimes it's hard to know
what to. believe. Some re-
viewers loved the
characters, others thought
they were insufficient."
Ironically, the book, Mr.
Friedman's fourth and most
successful, came on the heels
of a large disappointment.
From 1979 to 1985, he
poured most of his energy
into a massive project called
High Frontier, a novel and
screenplay about the glories
of space adventure.
For various reasons, main-
ly the 1986 explosion of the
space shuttle Challenger,
the project never got off the
ground.
"It began to seem that
great hopeful exciting things
in space were maybe not ex-

actly what anyone was going
to want to hear about," said
Mr. Friedman, who still
hopes to resurrect the project
some day.
In early 1988, after work-
ing on another project, Mr.
Friedman remembered an
idea he'd had years before
for Reasonable Doubt.
"I was looking for some-
thing to write, and there (the
idea) was," he explained. "I
had some sense because of
`L.A. Law' that people were
interested in lawyers and
the like."
Reasonable Doubt certain-
ly deals with lawyers. Its
protagonist, Michael Ryan,
is an attorney whose 27-
year-old son has just been
murdered. Grieving, the
lawyer is appalled when his
glamorous daughter-in-law
turns to him to act as her
defense counsel. Jennifer
Ryan has been accused of
bludgeoning Michael's son
to death with a sculpture at
a Soho art gallery.
At first Mr. Ryan turns
down her request. When he
eventually gives in, he finds
himself entangled in a com-
plex web of lies, drug deals,
and money laundering.
Mr. Friedman's legal
background proved in-
valuable in writing the book.
A graduate of New York
University School of Law
with a small practice dealing
mainly with entertainment
law, he said he couldn't have
researched the novel
without his law degree.
"Being a lawyer meant
that when I was (interview-
ing attorneys about their
work), I could ask intelligent
questions and I could under-
stand the answers," Mr.
Friedman said. "If it were a
question of educating me
from the ground up, I would
never have gotten the kind
of cooperation I did."
In addition to speaking to
more than a dozen defense
attorneys and prosecutors,
Mr. Friedman attended the
infamous "Preppy Murder"
trial as part of his research
for the novel.
"I wanted to see how
lawyers worked under the
circumstances of a celebrity,
high profile trial," Mr.
Friedman explained.
Attending the trial also
helped him to get a sense of

the general atmosphere at
such an event.
Maintaining accuracy was,
of course, one of Mr. Fried-
man's chief concerns while
writing the book. He noted
that in shows such as "L.A.
Law," attorneys frequently
make long speeches to the
witnesses — something that
would never happen in a real
courtroom. Moreover,
evidence is sometimes ad-
mitted that would usually be
excluded, such as hearsay
testimony from a witness.
"When you present inac-
curacies in a television
show, it can place a real
burden on the prosecution
and the defense in an actual
trial," said Mr. Friedman,

"I wanted to give
people a window on
a world that they
wouldn't normally
see, and to do it
with some fidelity."

Philip Friedman

who wrote much of the 497-
page book during a six-week
stay at an arts colony in
Sweet Briar, Va. "Some
juries can come to expect
things that just aren't going
to happen."
Determined to avoid such
pitfalls, Mr. Friedman in-
cluded detailed accounts of
the court process in
Reasonable Doubt. For ex-
ample, readers learn how
witnesses are located and
prepared for trial, how juries
are selected and how cross-
examination works.
Although legal
technicalities play a big part
in Reasonable Doubt, at the
book's core is Michael
Ryan's grief over the death
of his son, as well as his guilt
over not having been the
most attentive of fathers.
Though Mr. Friedman is
divorced and has no chil-
dren, he found inspiration
for Mr. Ryan's character by
reading the Biblical story of
King David and Bathsheba,
particularly the segment
where the couple's son falls
ill and dies.
Mr. Friedman noted that
just as King David revived

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

67

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