On the Trail of the Bad Men

by Arthur Train. New York: Charles Seribner’s Sons. 1925. 8vo. xii+425 pp. $3.00.
HAD not a copy of this book been presented to the reviewer, he would have had the honor of its dedication. For it is ‘affectionately dedicated to any lawyer who buys’ it. Thus denied this honor himself, he recommends its acceptance by other lawyers.
Mr. Train takes up the trail of the Bad Men by an account of his vain search for them through the Southwest. In his usual humorous style, he is diverting not only to the reader but also from the subject, for the true trail of the book winds through the wilderness of the Law and concerns Bad Men only in so far as they are unavoidable by a criminal lawyer, whether practising or writing. There are three or four splendid legal essays on the function of the district attorney, on criminal juries, and on legislation, both bad and foolish. There are several articles, of a sort rather to be tethered in a magazine than moored in a book, on such things as animals and women in court and millionaires both in and out. There is a sermon on marriage and divorce. And Mr. Train cinches his pack with a neat, short story.
In spite of a manifest fear of seeming serious, the legal essays are serious. Mr. Train belongs to Ehrlich’s School of the Living Law and expounds not what the law books say but what the facts show. Some ideas take wing from the printed page and of themselves work all sorts of destruction or benefaction on men, but criminal statutes have no such virtue. Only where they are applied do they leave any mark. Mr. Train knows this and teaches it. Our legislators, on the other hand, have attributed this magic virtue to their laws, and sometimes stoop to the utmost folly of incantation. Mr. Train cites (page 161) the Railroad Law of one State (unfortunately without a reference): ‘When two trains approach each other at a crossing, both shall stop and neither shall start until the other has gone.’ Is not this from the same State which now decrees that, when Evolution and Scripture meet at a crossing, Evolution must stop and let Scripture run over it? Mr. Train treats law with his customary shrewd wit, brightened and sharpened on the stone of familiarity.
Perhaps the best essay is that on the office of the district attorney and the institution of the jury. Anyone who is familiar with either knows that the jury is an institution whose merit is peculiarly dependent on the merits of the individuals who compose it. Moreover, each jury lacks tradition and so is specially amenable to leadership and inspiration. Therefore, when the personnel is poor, the grand jury is only a convenient scapegoat or a repository of responsibility for the acts of the district attorney, and the trial jury is more susceptible to the personalities of the courtroom than to the facts of the dispute. By apt story and easy phrase, Mr. Train makes difficult problems clear and dull subjects pleasant.
In brief, this book offers a number of things: some excellent monographs on present legal problems, half a dozen amusing magazine-articles, an edifying talk on marriage and divorce, and a good short story.