Raymond Fiore
September 10, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

While the 1920s are often romanticized as a prosperous era of flappers and jazz-filled speakeasies, for many black Americans the decade is best characterized by a roaring opposition to integration in Northern cities. Arc of Justice explores an explosive 1925 incident in which Ossian Sweet — an ambitious black physician who moved to a white, KKK-infested Detroit neighborhood — rallied 10 friends and relatives to combat an angry, stone-throwing mob, resulting in the shooting death of a white man. Boyle’s page-turning account of the incident and the landmark murder trial is both exhaustive and exhausting: He spins a suspenseful narrative, but then abandons it for a 125-page analysis of Sweet’s lineage. When Boyle returns to the central story, his dynamic character sketches (especially of legendary defense attorney Clarence Darrow) make for riveting courtroom theater.

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