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Professor Wesson Publishes Third Novel: Chilling Effect

September 1, 2004

Professor Marianne Wesson (known to her friends as Mimi) recently published the third book in her series of novels about a Boulder attorney, Cinda Hayes. Each book addresses one or more contemporary legal issues. Render Up The Body, published in 1998, concerns the rights of crime victims, the death penalty, and whether proof of a man's innocence is enough to save him from execution. A Suggestion of Death (2000) is based on the debate about "recovered memory;" it also depicts an antigovernment militia and its claim to have established its own "common law courts" outside the conventional legal system. The latest book, Chilling Effect, asks what would happen if a lawsuit claimed that the makers of a violent pornographic videotape were responsible for the death of a young girl. The girl's mother has asked Cinda to represent her, and reported that her daughter was killed by a disturbed man, obsessed with the video, who kidnapped the girl an aid to his re-enactment of it. Cinda and her partner reluctantly agree to take the case, which quickly proves to be an overwhelming responsibility. Cinda must not only track down the origins of the movie and cope with her client's eccentricities, but defend herself against the legal might of the entire American entertainment industry, which responds to the lawsuit with the argument that it attacks the freedom of speech guaranteed by the first amendment. Chilling Effect was published in September 2004 by the University Press of Colorado. Those interested in reading about Mimi Wesson's books may visit her website at or Mimi Wesson is also a frequent guest on public radio, both as a novelist and as an analyst of legal developments.You may listen to her recent interview on National Public Radio, concerning the 2004-2005 Supreme Court Term here. You may listen to her interview about Chilling Effect on Colorado Public Radio here. Here's what the Rocky Mountain News had to say about Chilling Effect: -- Grade: A University of Colorado law professor Marianne Wesson turns legal wrangling over the First Amendment into a great read in her third novel featuring Boulder attorney Lucinda Hayes. In Chilling Effect, the reader is treated not only to a hotly paced plot and compelling characters, but to what seems to be a thorough examination of the legal and social quandaries surrounding the scourge of child pornography and the problem of censorship. The title refers, of course, to the feared result of efforts to end the darker forms of pornography - a chilling effect on other forms of free speech. When Cinda takes on the case of Peggy Grayling, they realize they are up against terrible odds. Grayling's fourth-grade daughter was kidnapped, raped, tortured and murdered by a man who had been watching, over and over again, a video of a similar crime - illegal, but readily available. Grayling wants to find the makers of the video (no small task) and sue them (a legal marathon). Even if they find the source of the video, they'll have one heck of a time proving in court that the movie actually caused the crime - in a psychotic's mind, how will they tease out that singular thread of madness? And what about links between the pornography industry and the powerful legitimate film industry? In addition to this huge and fascinating task, Wesson takes on, in the course of her book, Kennedy's assassination, Buddhism and Christianity, race relations, homosexuality and the peculiar mentality of the city of Boulder. It's all in a day's work for Lucinda, a big-hearted heroine with the energy of three or four people. There are lots of reasons to read this lawyerly book, but the excellent and thoughtful story and the Colorado setting ought to be enough to send you straight to the bookstore. -- Mimi's latest project is one she calls a "nineteenth century true crime story," a book based on the famous (among law students and evidence professors) case of Mutual Life Insurance Company v. Hillmon. The Supreme Court's 1892 decision of this case is very important to the law of evidence, but it does not resolve the central mystery: who was the man who died at a remote Kansas campsite in 1879, leaving behind a corpse that some claimed to be that of John Hillmon, and some (especially the insurance companies who had insured Hillmon's life) claimed to be someone else? Mimi is at work on this book during a sabbatical in the Fall of 2004.