Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
In The Arraignment
, the seventh and most compelling entry in the Paul Madriani series, Steve Martini spins a tale of greed, deception, and white collar crime that reaches from San Diego to Cancun and from ancient Mayan civilization to the present day. When attorney Paul Madriani's discovers his friend and fellow lawyer Nick Rush gunned down with a dubious client outside the federal courthouse, he feels responsible. Nick left his handheld device on the table where he and Paul had just finished breakfast, and if Paul had tried harder to get Nick's attention to return it, Nick might still be alive. Now, Paul is left with a piercing sense of guilt and a host of unansweredand seemingly unanswerablequestions. Was Nick's death an accident, a case merely of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or was he murdered because of his association with Gerald Metz, the shady contractor whom Paul himself had turned down as a client? Why did Nick try to steer Metz his way? And why was Nick, as Paul later discovers, in business with someone like Metz?
To untangle these mysteries, Paul is willing to represent a man who may be a murderer, to jeopardize his own life to save that man's wife and child, and to let himself be taken on an ill-fated trip to Mexico that plunges him into a world of thievery, treachery, and violence. Throughout the novel, we see Paul in all his complexity. He is not just a razor-sharp lawyer, though he is very much that, frequently demonstrating his relentless skill as an interrogator, and even turning the tables on the insurance company to satisfy both Nick's grudging ex-wife Margaret and his grasping widow Dana. But he is also a caring father and a faithful friend, a man of generous instincts and remarkable bravery. Perhaps most unusually, Paul Madriani is a lawyer keenly aware of the thin facade that covers the misdeeds of the legal profession and equally capable of questioning his own conscience.
The result is a taut, fast-paced legal thriller that exposes the dark underside of the law, as well as the greed and overreaching ambition that so often, in fiction as in life, end in disaster.
- The Arraignment frequently offers trenchant insights into the inner workings of the law. Paul says, for example, that "lawyers working in [mergers and acquisitions] will tell you that corporate management getting rich while their companies go broke is just part of the normal business cycle," and that "a lot of money in America is still made the old-fashioned way, by stealing it" [p. 219]. What other criticisms does the novel level at our legal system? In what ways does it illuminate real-world legal manipulations like those associated with the collapse of Enron and other corporate scandals? How does Paul Madriani regard these behaviors?
- In considering Nick Rush's death, Paul feels sure that "any psychiatrist would tell me I was faultless. But a lawyer, a man trained to sharpen the point on guilt, might view it otherwise, as I do, as a proximate cause of death" [p. 69]. To what extent is Paul responsible for Nick's death? How does his own sense of personal responsibility affect the unfolding of the rest of the novel? How do the novel's final revelations confirm or refute Paul's interpretation of his own behavior?
- What kind of women are Nick's ex-wife Margaret and his widow Dana Rush? What do we learn about their characters from the way they approach the settlement of Nick's life insurance policy? How do Paul's values differ from the values of these two women? What acts of generosity does Paul perform during the course of the novel?
- Everyone assumes, particularly after the Mexican connection is established, that drugs are involved in the murders of Metz and Nick Rush. Is it surprising to learn that drugs are may not be the motive for their murders? What are the implications of ancient cultural artifacts being used in major criminal activity?
- By what means does Steve Martini create and sustain narrative suspense throughout the novel? How does the novel's parceling out or withholding of knowledge create a desire to read on? How unexpected are the revelations delivered in the novel's final pages? Which of these disclosures were you able to predict?
- In what scenes does Paul Madriani most powerfully display his talents as a lawyer? Where do we see him demonstrating his skill in interrogation, in piecing together evidence, in being persuasive?
- What clues point to the real motives and real reasons behind the double murder of Nick Rush and Gerald Metz? At what point does another lawyer's involvement become questionable? Why doesn't Paul suspect this other lawyer earlier?
- Near the end of the novel, as Paul reflects on the danger of his situation, he thinks that to assume he "could unravel the reasons behind Nick's death was arrogant. To risk the security of the only family that Sarah has left was foolish beyond belief.... A single parent has no business doing what I'm doing" [p. 370]. Is this an accurate self-assessment? In what ways have Paul's actions been foolish and arrogant? What has driven him to undertake such actions?
- In the novel's epilogue, Paul says that a lawyer and chief villain of the story "was a victim of his own management style" [p. 393]. What exactly does Paul mean by this? What is this man's management style? In what ways is he responsible for his own undoing?
- When they're discussing whether or not Zane Tressler is "in somebody's pocket," despite his obvious wealth and power, Harry says "The devil's got a corner on sin, but he still wants more," whereupon Paul observes: "My partner is a firm believer in the dark side of man" [p. 157]. What does the novel, as a whole, seem to suggest about the nature of man? What examples of overreaching, of "wanting more," of out-of-control ambition, does it show us? What kind of critique of American society is implicit in The Arraignment?
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