Alan M. Dershowitz's new novel Just Revenge confronts one of the most difficult questions of legal and moral theory: Is revenge ever justified? Although it never conclusively decides this question, the novel does take the reader through a labyrinth of horror, obsession, legal wrangling - and ultimately reconciliation.
Just Revenge features a Holocaust survivor and professor of religion, Max Menuchen, who has discovered the man who, half a century before in war-torn Lithuania, killed his family as he watched. The mild-mannered professor has never before broken a law, but his discovery of Marcellus Prandus, the Lithuanian militia captain who carried out the anti-Jewish orders of the Nazis, leads him to seek proportional justice.
Rather than simply killing Prandus, who is dying of cancer anyway, Menuchen wants to make him feel what it is like to see his whole family die before his eyes. Menuchen's revenge is gruesome - but, as the result of several twists and turns, not quite what you may expect.
The first half of the novel follows Menuchen's enactment of revenge, and the second half deals with the legal repercussions and the courtroom drama which follow this act. Menuchen is defended in court by Abe Ringel, a defense lawyer who is known for defending controversial accused criminals. The courtroom scenes have a few of their own twists, including a surprise witness and a dramatic and unexpected turn at the end of the long trial.
A professor at Harvard Law School and one of the most famous criminal defense lawyers in the country, Dershowitz demonstrates in this, his second novel, a broad intellectual scope and a deep understanding of legal and ethical complexity.
Vivian Wagner is a freelance writer in New Concord, Ohio.