Title: The Deposit Slip
Author: Todd M Johnson
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
I would never have believed that this book was Todd Johnson's debut. He writes in an accomplished style you might well associate with someone who has published before.
Looking through her father’s safe deposit box at the local bank, Erin Larson finds a deposit slip of over $10 million. But Ashley State Bank refuses to acknowledge the money; it won’t answer any questions, and dismisses her claim as fraudulent. The bank uses scare tactics to frighten her into leaving let alone. When Jared Neaton, a young lawyer who has started his own firm after 5 years of working at big shark Paisley, is unsure of whether to take on Erin’s case, Paisley lawyers Marcus Stanford and Franklin Whittier III employ the same strong arm measures to scare him off.
But Jared has no paying cases and he needs a breakthrough case to help him crawl out of the financial hole he is in, even if the fee he might receive is contingent to him winning. As his financial troubles tighten around him, Jared begins to worry, yet he feels compelled to fight Erin’s case.
Stanford and Whittier take advantage of the fact that Jared is understaffed and underfunded and also the fact that the bank is a pretty mean adversary. They try bullying, aggression and intimidation. They keep setting up barriers in Jared’s path.
We get a sense of the options closing in on him, even as the
level of intrigue and conspiracy keep getting heightened.
At one point, Jared unethically makes use of a client’s money to fund Erin’s case.
I admired the author’s research on the legal and banking industries and how things work there. Incidentally, Todd is a practicing attorney, and he puts his knowledge and experience to good use here.
The author must be credited for the characterization. We get a sense of the type of restrained cruelty that Stanford might be capable of as well as of the unrestrained aggression of Whittier. Against the foil of their characters, and on his own too, Jared stands apart as intelligent, principled and willing to stand up for the truth. He comes across as a strong character who has the guts and the conviction to fight for his case.
Plus, he has his own demons in the shape of this father, Samuel, who fell from grace when he was caught stealing from his own company, and the Lutheran Church that forsook the family in their hour of need.
Although there are two pretty women here, in the shape of paralegal Jesse Dickerson who is Jared’s assistant, and Erin who is his client, we readers know nothing about which of these he is attracted to. If at all. That, I felt, was a good thing. It kept the attention firmly focused on the case, without any distractions breaking the momentum.
Among the women, Erin comes across as the weakest. She wants to know the truth about her father, where he got the money from, whether he got it legally, but we are not impressed with her motivation.
Carol Huddlestone, the librarian, is far more feisty a character, as is Jessie. Even Cory Spangler, the intern who worked at Ashley State Bank, is more vibrant. Despite knowing the threat to her life, she chooses to come to Ashley and testify.
Besides these, we also sense the desperation of small time farmer Joe Creedy, the oily slickness of banker Sidney Grant, the arrogance of the Paisley lawyers. We know the latter as well as if we ourselves were suffering on account of their machinations.
Although it is Erin’s case that this book is about, we don’t really know much about her. We don’t get to see her point of view. At a deeper level, both Jared and Erin are longing to make contact with their fathers. Jared has been estranged from his own father since the crime and Erin from hers due to isolation. Now it is Jared’s possible resolution of the problem that stands between her and her father’s image as an upright man.
The author has given us some quotable quotes too. Litigation is just war by other means. A war for the hearts and minds of the judge and jurors. Of course, in the courtroom no blood is spilled. At least none that reaches the floor.
Todd has shown enough talent here to depose John Grisham as the reigning king of courtroom dramas. He has shown genuine skill and craft in this book, his debut novel. And while I’m not familiar with American legal procedure, this thriller certainly kept the pace going. The twists and turns just keep taking us by surprise, page after page.
The setting, Minnesota, plays a huge part here, with its winter pushing the plot along towards the climax of the book.
The drama here is not limited to the courtroom alone. There is plenty of explosive action visible in other locations as well as in the characters’ lives.
Because Todd is a Christian author, there's more to The Deposit Slip than the pursuit of justice alone. There is also the need for forgiveness and reconciliation, as Jared struggles to find it within himself to forgive his father. His feelings towards his father are at the heart of his determination to fight Erin's case, no matter what the cost to himself.
This is also the story of a tiny minnow fighting against the big sharks for justice. Such stories always appeal to me. Forced out of their defenses, the minnows always find deep reserves of strength within themselves.
My only grouse was against the the tipping point that leads to the culmination of this story. It was something that I felt very let down by. Revealing any more would mean spoiling the story for you. Something I would not want to do.
Todd Johnson’s debut novel is a forceful read. I look forward to more from him.