Boyle recounts the story of the 1925 Ossian Sweet murder trial, a tale of one man trapped by the battles of his era's changing times, a city divided, and the advent of the civil rights struggle in Detroit.
Kevin Boyle's Arc of Justice is by far the most cogent and thorough account yet of the trial and its aftermath ... One of its virtues is the way Boyle vividly recreates the energy and menace of Detroit in 1925 ... Boyle deftly shows how the trial took on different meanings for its various players ... Those working-class whites are the only people who remain more or less faceless in Boyle's narrative. He does explain how their fear of black interlopers was rooted in the city's precarious economics: mortgages were so hard to finance that a drop in property values could mean eviction for many families. But his account lapses now and then toward the simple-minded melodrama that infects some writing about civil rights, in which the 'poison' of racism substitutes for more complex motives. Boyle has come away from the trial record with no apparent doubts about who told the truth and why. In that sense, his book can seem less sophisticated than a history like James Goodman's Stories of Scottsboro, which narrated a similarly charged trial of the same era from clashing perspectives.
Using one dramatic case to illuminate the bigger picture, Boyle has written a book that ought to become a standard text and might just become a classic of historical literature ... Boyle... is masterful at placing every nuance of the Sweet case within a larger context, not only in Detroit but nationally.
Told with exemplary care and intelligence, this narrative chronicles inflammatory times in black and white America and pays tribute to those heroes who struggled to get Old Jim Crow where he lived. The way history should be written.