A Monk Jumped Over a Wall
By Jay Nussbaum
By BILL DUNCAN
Despite the religious sounding title, "A Monk Jumped Over a Wall," is a legal thriller dealing with legal issues as current as today’s headlines. The book opens in a law office conference room where one of the senior partners is feigning sympathy for a young, frightened couple sitting across the mahogany conference table.
Carter Boston is telling Jared Eagan and his wife, Emily not to blame themseleves "you got sick, lost your job, missed a bunch of mortgage payments…it’s not my job to assign blame," then he adds quietly, "I am just a lawyer…with straightforward marching orders. I have to collect on this loan for my client. If we can’t work out something today you leave me no choice but to foreclose."
Boston’s firm is representing Stan Eiderhorn, who bought a package of 1,200 mortgages for 43 cents on the dollar from a bank because all the loans were in default. Eiderhorn is expecting a 300 percent return on his investment. The Eagans are being pushed to sign a deed-in-lieu of a foreclosure, a legal action that would give the lawyers the deed to the house without a fuss and no lawsuit.
In that conference room are seven people. The Eagans are very much alone against five lawyers. Among the legal arm are two foot soldiers, J.J. Spencer and Ira Finowitz, two young lawyers, who are just there as a show of force for the firm to intimidate the Eagans.
J.J., the book’s protagonist, is a first-year associate with the company awaiting his evaluation, a big raise and better cases.
Secretly, J.J. is rooting for the Eagans. He has accepted a lunch bet from Finowitz that the Eagans will cave in and agree to hand over the deed.
The Eagans’ plea for more time is interrupted by a secretary announcing that Boston’s conference call is ready. He adjourns the meeting and J.J. and Ira go to a deli for lunch. He can’t seem to let go what he has witnessed happening to the Eagans when suddenly the Eagans come into the deli. J.J. makes a decision that becomes the plot of the book.
He walks over to the Eagans’ table, sits down without being invited and says: "I have no time to waste. I can’t afford to be seen sitting here." Then he quickly says, "Declare bankruptcy." Jared Eagan wants no part of J.J.’s solution and argues that he is not a deadbeat.
J.J.’s sudden surge of compassion during a chance encounter at a deli could get him disbarred.
The plot heightens when J.J. is called for what he thinks is his evalution as a first annual review. Instead he is fired by the senior partners in one of the best crafted scenes in the entire book. The dialog is sparkling as J.J. is handed a vase of flowers with a note attached. The flowers were delivered to the law firm by the Eagans and the card thanks J.J. for his legal advice on filing bankruptcy. Boston is furious and threatens to file a formal complaint with the bar association to have him disbarred.
Not only did J.J. not get his expected raise and a more responsible position but he discovers no good deed goes unpunished. In a series of mishaps that follows, he gets drunk, is beaten up in a bar fight, is arrested for dunk driving and is facing disbarment for violation of client confidentiality.
He decides since his perfect life is already over, he will dedicate himself to helping the very people who unwittingly lost him everything. It is in this journey and the surprising battles he faces that a new life is allowed to rise from the ashes and J.J. becomes the man he always should have been. Along the way, he realizes what a true friend really is, particularly in Ira Finowitz, who turns out to be an ally in J.J.’s disbarment proceedings.
This is an exciting read for anyone who likes legal thrillers. Nussbaum does an excellent job of keeping the reader off guard as to just how all this end. This is Nussbaum’s second book, however it is quite different from his introductory novel, "Blue Road to Atlantis," kind of a spiritual parable of Hemingway’s "The Old Man and the Sea," in which the lead character, Fishmael, is traveling with his mentor, a wise and beautiful marlin known as "Old Fish."
Nussbaum is a lawyer, who has given up the law to devote full time to fiction writing. With his first book a literary success, his publisher asked for his next book. From a desk drawer he pulled out an old manuscript, called "Coming to Terms," one that was so amateurishly written, it didn’t sell. After re-reading it he set about rewriting it and renamed it, "A Monk Jumped Over a Wall," a book that involves the reader from page one to the end.
(Bill Duncan can be reached at email@example.com)