for a good summer read? Pick up Martin Clark's novel
about the escapades of renegade Roanoke minister
No, despite what you may think, despite what the title must bring to mind, this is not about the legislature, nor politics, nor the operation of the government in general.
Sorry. It does fit. But that’s not what this is about.
Plain Heathen Mischief is Stuart Circuit Court Judge Martin Clark’s second novel, a rollicking good read just out from Knopf and available at bookstores
everywhere. Coming after The Many Aspects of Mobile Home
Living the national best-seller that launched him into the literary stratosphere, this one will keep him there. It is better.
Says Publishers Weekly: “There is barely a false note in this comic novel of hope and redemption. Minor characters are rich and multilayered, and the dialogue is
priceless… All in all, this is one of the year’s most entertaining surprises.”
Says Booklist: “He socks it to insurance companies and American Gumball Jurisprudence like Jeannie C. Riley’s Momma socked it to the Harper Valley PTA.”
Meet Joel King, whose middle name should have been
"blunder, blunder, blunder" a Roanoke minister just out of jail on a little matter involving Christy Darden. Problem is, was, Christy is not quite 18. But that’s behind him now. Time for a fresh start. How about a cross-country jaunt with Edmund Brooks, an insurance scammer?
Would you think a minister from Roanoke might steer clear of any Las Vegas character, much less a lawyer named Sa’ad X? Not Joel. What follows is enough trouble to make him wistful for the good ol’ days in the Roanoke County Jail. And he would if he had time. But he doesn’t. He’s at a dead run before this one is over.
I’m not going to give this one away. Just know it’s a real-deal romp.
When he’s not writing — which he does most mornings
5:30-6:30 — Clark is fooling with his horses and chickens on his farm just outside Stuart, or, that black robe getup on, sitting, as they say,
"on the bench" as a circuit court judge here at the courthouse in Stuart, or the one down the road in Henry County.
The word on Clark among members of the local bar association:
"‘disciplined, hard working, smart, tough, damn
He is the son of legendary Stuart lawyer Martin F.
"Fil" Clark, now an eighty-something, bow-tied dandy sort who still practices here, but once a king-maker in Democratic politics with a state-wide
reach — confidant of A. L. Philpott and Ed Willey and Frank Burton and Murray Hooker, and others of another political time and place.
Martin is a rarity — sure, a son of privilege, as local privilege goes here, but more than that: a product of blue-blood
education — Woodberry Forrest, Davidson, UVA Law
— with decidedly blue-collar sensibilities. And rarer still: he can write. Jesus, can he write.
Perhaps that day-job thing, that river that is the flotsam of heartbreak and grief, of passion and despair, of hilarity, that flows through our courts is easy pickings for him. I don’t know. I know this: I’m glad he’s there. What would we have missed without him? And, more importantly, what’s still to come? What is it that only he will see?
Martin wears fame comfortably. The recent photo spread in the Sunday
New York Times, the billboard on I-581 in Roanoke, great reviews in publications all across the
country — all seem to do nothing much more than, at best, amuse him. They don’t bounce the needle of his value system either way.
The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living made him over $100,000 and he gave all of
it — every dime — to his church. You see, it was just a little private deal, a promise he had made. And besides, who wants to provoke the God of Retribution?
I phoned him up this morning, prior to writing this. But he was at work, on the bench in Martinsville.
-- June 07, 2004