March 30, 2005

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A Fool’s Gold, by Bill Merritt, (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2006, 280 pages)

The full title of this book is A Fool’s Gold: A Story of Ancient Spanish Treasure, Two Pounds of Pot and the Young Lawyer Almost Left Holding the Bag. The title pretty much says it all for the plot, and author Bill Merritt was that young lawyer.

So, moving beyond the obvious, let me tell you that A Fool’s Gold was a joy to read. Mostly funny, this mostly nonfiction story moves nimbly from courtroom battle to pot-filled storage locker to treasure dig to a honeymoon cabin with a safe filled with unmarked $20s and blackmail tapes.

Merritt was fresh out of law school when he went to work for the crusty and corrupt Thaddeus Silk. Silk died a few months later, leaving Merritt with piles of unorganized files and a client list of petty crooks, crazies and nonpayers. There is Abby Birdsong, who keeps one and a half tons of rotting marijuana in a storage locker for personal use. There is Grady Jackson, who swears up and down that he knows where a sunken treasure ship is located and keeps suing the state to let him dig it up. There is also Silk himself, who owned part of a sketchy bar and kept what appeared to be pirate treasure in his office safe.

Hijinks ensue and the best part of it is, it’s all true. (However, Merritt is the first to admit that he combined some characters for dramatic effect and changed the order of some events to make the story work better.)

A Fool’s Gold made me chuckle out loud several times while Merritt’s obvious love for his very real clients and characters made me a little misty a time or two. It just goes to show that a true story, properly told, is better than just about anything you can make up. A-

— Robert Greene


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