Brain Storm: A Novel


Attorney Joe Watson had never been to court except to be sworn in. He was a Webhead, a cybernerd doing support work for the lawyers in his firm who did go to court. And he was good at it. He was on track to become one of the youngest partners in the firm, and he was able - by a hair - to support his wife and children in an affluent neighborhood. Then he got notice that the tyrannical Judge Whittaker J. Stang had appointed him to defend James Whitlow, a small-time lowlife with a long rap sheet accused of a double ...
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1998 audio Book Good 12 Audio cassette tapes in the clamshell case published by Recorded Books withdrawn from the library. Some shelf wear and library markings to the box and ... the cassettes. The tapes sit inside, tested and clear sounding! Enjoy this worthwhile unabridged audio performance. Read more Show Less

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0788719882 Listened To but still in excellent condition. In hard case with complete graphics cards. 12 cassettes / 17.75 hours Unabridged! 1998 Narrated by George Guidall

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Brain Storm: A Novel

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Attorney Joe Watson had never been to court except to be sworn in. He was a Webhead, a cybernerd doing support work for the lawyers in his firm who did go to court. And he was good at it. He was on track to become one of the youngest partners in the firm, and he was able - by a hair - to support his wife and children in an affluent neighborhood. Then he got notice that the tyrannical Judge Whittaker J. Stang had appointed him to defend James Whitlow, a small-time lowlife with a long rap sheet accused of a double hate crime: killing his wife's deaf black lover. When Watson stubbornly decides not to plead out his client, he is soon evicted from his comfortable life: His boss fires him, his wife leaves him and takes the children, and the Whitlow case begins to consume all of his time. Watson's finished. Or is he? To answer that question requires, among many other things, a brain scan for Watson in a state of strapped-down arousal, a Voice Transcription Device to eavesdrop on a dead deaf man's conversation, two chimpanzees who have no choice but to love each other; and a blind news vendor who demonstrates a real touch when it comes to making money. Once a deliberate yes-man at home and in the office, Joe Watson finds himself fighting not only to save his marriage and his career but also to hold intact his conviction that a person is more than a series of chemical reactions.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
When white supremacist James Whitlow shoots his wife's lover, a deaf African American sign language teacher, he finds himself a prime candidate for the application of new hate-crime statutes. But is he guilty of a hate crime? Enter his court-appointed lawyer, Joe Watson of Stern, Pale, the best law firm in St. Louis. A research wonk by avocation, an old schoolmate of Whitlow's by chance, young Watson resists pressure from colleagues and family to plea bargain: until all the facts come out, he means to stand by his client. Watson is such a nebbish, however, that it's hard to feel for him, especially since his triumphs occur offstage. He may write one hell of a brief, but as an action figure he often seems superfluous. Myrna Schweich, the tough-talking criminal lawyer he hooks up with, makes the good suggestions; curmudgeonly old Judge Stang explains the points of law; and even Rachel Palmquist, the sexy neuroscientist who wants to operate on Whitlow, gives Watson legal advice. Will he fall for Rachel's brainy charms? Since Watson can't imagine his wife (an unattractive walk-on character) as anything other than the ball and chain to whom he's pledged fidelity, it's difficult to care. Dooling, a lawyer whose White Man's Grave was a 1994 NBA finalist, has taken an intriguing law-school conundrum and grafted it onto a study of white-collar mores. The result is half bull session, half film noir. Yet the novel is saved by its extra-dry sense of satire (the Jamesian nameplay is only the start), faltering only when Dooling seems to ask that we take his characters with a straight face rather than as elements in a sharply drawn lampoon of a society drowning in legalisms. Film rights to Alan Pakula. (Apr.)
Library Journal
There can be no doubt that Dooling is a born storyteller, as he demonstrated in White Man's Grave (LJ 4/15/94). He has the gift of making you read on, sometimes against your will, until you reach the end. But then on disengaging from his company, you feel you've been adventuring with comic-strip characters. Dooling is inclined to stress the gargoylish in his characters, and, apart from one or two exceptions, the people in this newest work are suggestive caricatures. The uncomplicated plot revolves around the attempt of a young lawyer named Joe Watson, whose specialty is computerized legal research and who has no trial experience, to defend under a new hate-crime guideline a white man accused of murdering a hearing-impaired black man whom he discovered in bed with his wife. Upon this fairly simple theme are embroidered many caustic wisecracks about human nature in general and the legal profession in particular. The overall verdict? Not bad. Recommended for larger public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/97.]A.J. Anderson, GSLIS, Simmons Coll., Boston
Colin Harrison
Here us a whodunit that achieves a comic fugue-state mastery of the language of our sexually charged, violent, technocratic society.
The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
A comic cautionary tale for young lawyers everywhere: Whatever it takes, don't agree to defend an alleged hate killer. James F. Whitlow (so the US Attorney claims) arrived at his army-base home to find Elvin Brawley, the African-American artist Whitlow's enlisted wife had hired to give sign-language lessons to the couple's deaf son, giving Mary Whitlow another kind of instruction. Inflamed not only by jealousy but by hatred of blacks and the deaf, Whitlow shot the interloper and now faces a murder charge, with only his court-appointed lawyer, neophyte Joe Watsona research and writing factotum at the swanky St. Louis firm of Stern, Pale & Covin who hasn't set foot in a courtroom since he was sworn instanding between him and lethal injection. But Watson's inexperience is the least of his problems. His mentor at Stern, Pale wants him to drop this unlovely, nonpaying case forthwith and is prepared to find a reason to boot him out of the firm if he doesn't. The presiding judge, Whittaker J. Stang, is a demented cackler; the federal prosecutors have reams of evidence linking Whitlow to the Eagle Warriors, a violent, crazy group of white supremacists; and Whitlow's best hopebewitching forensic neuropsychologist Rachel Palmquist, a.k.a. Aphrodite, MDis clearly ravenous to batten on him as a fascinating case study. Worse, she's also got designs on Watson (revealed in the most perverse seduction scene of the year) that could complete the hat trick by depriving him of wife and family along with job. It's all too much for this courtroom Candide, especially when it becomes clear that both his client and his client's wife, the all-important witness for the prosecution, are telling a bunch ofwhoppers. Dooling (White Man's Grave, 1994, etc.) has such a gorgeously rampaging take on brain chemistry, hate-crime law, and the grounds for contempt of court that you may find yourself, like Joe Watson, losing sight of the brilliantly overinflated conflict at the heart of this postmodern fable. (Author tour)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780788719882
  • Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC
  • Publication date: 1/10/2002
  • Format: Cassette
  • Edition description: Unabridged

Read an Excerpt

Arthur took a call. Watson gathered his papers and headed out, back to his office, a windowless cubicle one fourth the size of Arthur's spread. Arthur had the big office, the ancient measure of partner power, but he didn't have a 600 megahertz Pentium VI 3-D system with a subwoofer and a twenty-eight-inch flat-panel display, which the firm had installed in Watson's office to assist him in analyzing copyright litigation claims for the firm's software clientele. Arthur didn't 'do' computers, had no use for them. He was an example of that dying breed of lawyer who still pined for the days when former fraternity brothers and family friends paid dearly for sage advice and legal guidance. The old guy had barely
an inkling that modern corporate clients were no longer interested in sage advice (they could get that from the in-house lawyers they had on staff). They had all the family friends and wise men they needed; they came to Stern, Pale looking for armies of ruthless litigators and
information dominance, so they could massacre their opponents in court.

In the twilight of his august career, Arthur was still dispensing advice and memos to clients, but these days those memos and that advice consisted of information that had been winnowed, gathered, and compressed by associates using powerful computers and search
technologies. For young lawyers, like Joe, legal prowess increasingly depended on computer expertise, which meant that one had to curry favor and cultivate relationships not only with senior partners, who played real golf, but also with the management information systems (MIS) people, who played 3-D Microsoft Golf and who controlled access to the
machines and thesoftware a young associate needed for optimum research capabilities.

For instance, Arthur barely knew the head of MIS--a shapeless, rumpled dweeb, affectionately known as Inspector Digit--who was Watson's buddy and primarily responsible for getting Watson into his high-end equipment. Digit was, in the language of the trade, a guy with lots of MIPS but no I/O. Plenty of brainpower, but subject to trap errors, freeze-ups, and system hangs when it came to interacting with humans. When Digit opened his mouth, argot and acronyms, techno-linguistics and programming instruction sets came out. Most lawyers said only "Uh-huh" and "Fix it" to Digit, which was why Digit valued Watson's friendship.
Watson, in turn, looked to Digit for the very latest in beta browsers and processing power.

Officially, the lawyers were allowed to use only firm-issued desktop PCs (referred to by the information elite as 'beige toasters') that were hooked to the network and ran five-year-old firm-approved software (hopelessly dated stuff, referred to as 'stone knives and bearskins');
third-party programs of any kind were strictly forbidden, for obvious security reasons. But unofficially, Inspector Digit and the MIS people gave Watson and a few other silicon turbonerds high-end machines and let them deploy and test the latest Web browsers, agents, robots, and legal systems software. It was the best way to test the stuff before
implementing it throughout the network. Watson and the other tech-headed lawyers were always clustergeeking around the new machines, running beta software, crashing supposedly crashproof software, or cycle crunching the networks on purpose, so that the MIS people would order them stand-alone workstations. Also known as propeller heads, spods, and terminal junkies, these associates knew the antiviral and security drills, so there was no point in limiting their use of third-party programs. Besides, restricting the serious user's choice of software is the equivalent of thought control.

Let Arthur have a big office, thought Watson--I'll take the workstation with two gigabytes of RAM and the beta software.
His screen came back to life when he moved the trackball, and Watson returned to the Castle of Skulls, ready for another thirty or forty billable hours of dismembering 3-D medieval warlords.
A blinking light on his Personal Information Manager (PIM) indicated that he had external voice mail waiting. He pressed the button. "This is Judge Stang's clerk, Federal District Court, Eastern District of Missouri, calling Joseph T. Watson, attorney number 76892. Pursuant to the court's local rules, Judge Stang has appointed you to represent an
indigent defendant in Case Number 2002-CR-30084-WJS. For more information about the case and for a copy of the information and the bill of particulars, please call the court at . . ."

His appointed case! In the Eastern District of Missouri (St. Louis) and in many other federal districts, the district courts have a long-standing tradition of assigning every new lawyer admitted to practice in the district a pro bono case, usually an indigent criminal or civil rights plaintiff who, for whatever reason, cannot be represented by the federal public defender. It's a rite of passage for new lawyers who don't know which end is up in a drug conspiracy trial,
and it's the bane of big law firms, whose partners lose hundreds of billable hours' worth of new associate time to the defense of guilty criminals or the filing of often frivolous prisoners'-rights or discrimination suits.

Watson knew he was due for his appointed case, because three of his classmates who were sworn in with him had already received theirs. He'd had secret hopes for a criminal case, because back in law school--before becoming husband to his wife, Sandra, and father and provider for their children, Sheila and Benjy--he had aspired to being William Kunstler,
Gerry Spence, or Clarence Darrow. A legal warrior and protector of downtrodden outcasts. Instead, he became an overpaid silk-stockinged Westlaw geek for the partners of Stern, Pale. A criminal case might satisfy some of his former cravings for glory. But big criminal cases usually went to the federal public defender. Besides, a federal criminal appointment would tear some ragged, deep valleys in Watson's 180-day moving average of fifty billable hours a week, because all of the appointed work would be nonbillable. In his day, Clarence Darrow probably didn't turn in time sheets to the management committee, or answer to the wife and kids when he passed on the family vacation and took a case for no pay. Or if Clarence answered to a wife, she probably didn't have Sandra's withering contempt for professional frolics and detours--like defending guilty criminals--that would do nothing to advance the welfare of their traditional family.

He called Judge Stang's clerk and exchanged pleasantries with a pleasant young woman. He patiently waited for her to tell him he had been assigned a nice Title VII employment discrimination case, an inmate wanting his sentence corrected from 580 years to probation, or a Social Security matter--maybe helping a destitute widow make a claim for benefits.

"It's a murder case," the woman said pleasantly.
''Murder?'' Watson choked. It was criminal, all right--beyond his wildest dreams, verging on his wildest nightmares. "Since when do they have murder trials in federal court?"
"Let's see here," she said. "Looks like the murder occurred on an army base, in the on-base housing where the defendant was staying with his wife, who is in the reserves. That's military reservation, meaning it's federal jurisdiction, which puts it in U.S. district court. And the U.S. attorney is seeking the death penalty under the Hate Crime Motivation or Vulnerable Victim provisions of the new federal sentencing guidelines. It's the federal version of all those state
penalty-enhancement statutes."

"It's a hate crime?" asked Watson.
"Why don't you read the Complaint and Affidavit? It probably came through on your fax machine a few minutes ago. It's murder, and the government is saying"--Watson heard pages riffling--" here we are, paragraph seven: 'The defendant intentionally selected his victim as the object of the offense because of the actual or perceived disability of the victimdeafness.' "
"Deafness? And they're saying what?" Watson asked, amazed that there was such a law and doubly amazed that prosecutors actually used it. "You mean they're saying he shot a deaf guy because he hates deaf people?"

"I guess so," said the clerk. "Hold it. It also says "--more riffling--" paragraph eight: 'The defendant intentionally selected his victim as the object of the offense because of the actual or perceived race of the victim--African-American.' The victim must have been a deaf
black guy."

Murder! Joseph T. Watson, Esq., recent graduate of Ignatius University Law School and winner of the Computerized Legal Research & Writing Award, was the attorney of record for a hate criminal accused of murder! He panicked and did the noble thing, which was to argue his own incompetence, taking the defensible position that he was not a real lawyer.

"This must be a mistake," he said. "I'm not a real lawyer. I do computerized legal research. I'm a Webhead and Westlaw expert. I'm not an officer of the court. I've never even been to court, except to get sworn in. I spend roughly eleven hours a day foraging in computerized
legal databases retrieving precedent--cases that support the legal theories of senior partners who pay me handsomely for my skills." Even as he was attempting to beg off out of fear, he was tempted--exhilarated even--by the prospect of doing
something--anything--besides fifty hours of legal research per week, every week. All he had had to say was "Yes, ma'am," and he could play at being a real lawyer, a trial lawyer, a criminal defense lawyer. But a first-year associate taking on a murder case for the sake of trial experience was like a med student dabbling in a little brain surgery.

"It says here you do discrimination work, Title VII cases, and so on," said the clerk.
"Employment discrimination," said Watson. "I've done computerized legal research and written legal memoranda for partners who defend large employers who have been unjustly sued by disgruntled employees, but--"
"Judge Stang said these bias crimes are a lot like discrimination cases," said the clerk. "Think about it. Killing somebody is the ultimate form of discrimination. You shouldn't have any trouble."
"But I've never uttered word one in a courtroom!"
"Which puts you in the same boat with all the other young lawyers who get appointed every day," said the clerk. "Besides, you work at Stern, Pale. It's the best firm in town. I'm sure you'll do a better job than most of the appointed lawyers we see down here."

Again, the prospect of a real case--his very own case!--beckoned, but he also vividly imagined his normal workload, his billable hours, and his performance profile all ravaged by a murder trial in which he would be representing a nonpaying client. What would Clarence Darrow do? Selflessly think about the poor client, probably.

"I am not a trial lawyer," he continued, wondering how much trouble he could cause the government by filing a dozen vigorous, well-aimed pretrial motions. "Stern, Pale hired me because I have a certain facility for answering essay questions on law school exams."

"I'm looking at the judge's notes," said the clerk. "He says you wrote a law review article called 'Are Hate Crimes Thought Crimes?' in the Ignatius University law journal." Watson was flattered that Judge Stang had noticed his student comment but alarmed that anyone would think it qualified him to handle a murder case.

"That's me," he said. "But that's just footnotes, research, and so on.
That's not murder!"
The clerk sighed. "The case has been assigned to you. I don't know if there's such a thing as a Rule Forty-nine Motion to Withdraw Because of Your Own Incompetence, and I don't think your client can claim ineffective assistance of counsel until you lose the case, but if you
want to file something, see Judge Stang at informal matters after the arraignment. I'd wear a helmet if I were you."

The clerk added that Watson could watch Channel 5 Live at ten if he wanted to know more about the case, that newspaper people were calling, that Lawyers for Deaf Americans, lawyers for the National Organization for Women, NAACP lawyers, civil rights attorneys, and hate crime experts were all calling for information about the case, so maybe he would be able to fob it off on an attorney for a special interest group or on some other eager young defense lawyer willing to work for nothing while building his or her reputation.

"This is an academic discussion, however," said the clerk. "You've been appointed. I cant unappoint you. Only the judge can do that. Do you know Judge Stang?" Legends and war stories came immediately to Watson's mind. The time Judge Stang--a cantankerous graduate of the Roy Bean school of jurisprudence--ordered an attorney to put a bag over his client's head, because the judge was sick of the man's supercilious grin. The time he
ordered a federal marshal to handcuff two squabbling attorneys together and lock them in a holding cell. The time he flew into a blind rage (later diagnosed as furor juridicus, a species of judicial seizure activity) and attacked thirty lawyers with the courtroom's iron flagpole
because they were unable to settle EPA Superfund litigation after three years of discovery.

He had more nicknames than any other judge. Some called him Ivan the Terrible, others, Blackjack Stang; still others referred to him as the Grand Inquisitor, Darth Vader, Beelzebub, the Gowned Avenger, or the Prince of Darkness.

"I'll tell you this," she said, "if you try to withdraw from an appointed case, and your only excuse is that you lack trial experience, Judge Stang will fine you for contempt, and then he'll cut your ears off with a butter knife."

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 16, 2001

    The right mixture of fun and whodunit.

    Richard Dooling has a very clever tale here with 'Brainstorm'. Our hero is a lawyer, Joe Watson, content to drift in cyberspace doing legal research forever, when suddenly he is appointed a pro bono case. Joe Watson, married, two kids, nice home, must suddenly take on a case of such racial and moral indignities that it threatens to turn his whole life around. In trying to defend the accused, James Whitlow, it looks as though he is up against a losing battle from the start. James Whitlow is accused of murdering a black, deaf man whom he caught in bed with his wife. James Whitlow has a most unfortunate past, that of being a known bigot and a youth laced with criminality. He even has a tatto sporting his feelings about black people. Clearly, our hero will have a very tough time convincing a jury this is not a hate crime. While attempting to do so, we are introduced to some of the most colorful literary characters I have ever come across. Judge Stang is fierce, he is funny, in fact, he is hysterical, and he is a character you will not soon forget. Joe Watson's newest partner, Myrna Schwiech is also full of life and memorable. The writing is superb, the only aspect of the book that faded the story for me was the intense details of computerese and neuroscience. Had it not been for these diversions, I would have given it five stars, but there is just enough of this type of language to make several chapters quite boring.

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