Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, July 14, 2023

CBA begins book club with tale of murder in Chattanooga

Growing up, Cecilia Garrett liked to read, although she cringes a little when she says her younger self consumed “beach-read rom-coms” rather than the cerebral fare she read in college and law school.

To her credit, Garrett also tackled the occasional murder mystery, as well as Truman Capote’s true crime classic, “In Cold Blood,” which she’s revisited since becoming an attorney.

When Chattanooga Bar Association Executive Director Lynda Hood learned about Garrett’s penchant for reading, she asked her to chair a new social endeavor for the CBA: a book club.

Garrett was game. Not only does she like spearheading extracurricular activities, she says, but she also knew facilitating the book club would give her a reason to read for fun again – an activity she’s neglected since she began practicing law.

“It was a chance to do something I used to enjoy,” she smiles.

Launched earlier this year, the CBA’s book club caters to busy attorneys by meeting only once per quarter, giving participants three months to read the book the group has selected. In addition to gathering together to discuss the tome, Garrett and Hood plan optional events than can deepen everyone’s understanding of the selection.

Hood picked the first book: “Murder by the River” by Jerry Burden, a nonfiction work that tells the sordid story of a murder outside a Chattanooga nightclub in the late 1970s and the powerful people who became part of the lore surrounding the crime, which remains a topic of local fascination today.

As a book club bonus, Garrett’s firm, Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel, hosted a lunch with the author. During the event, Burden, a Chattanooga native, showed some of the photos that didn’t make it onto the pages of “Murder by the River” and chatted about his reasons for writing the book.

About three dozen readers attended the quarterly discussion, which was spirited, Garrett says.

“Many of the people in the book club were living in Chattanooga when the murder happened and had ties to some of the people who were involved. It was a really interesting conversation.”

One reader had even been inside the nightclub where the murder occurred and shared the experience of being there, adding even more meat to the bones of the group chat.

Young lawyers are also participating in the book club, including Laura Higbee of Husch Blackwell. She says she enjoyed reading “Murder by the River” because it painted a portrait of Chattanooga that’s vastly different from the one people see today.

“Who knew a nightclub murder scene would eventually be home to an ice cream parlor and local shops?” she asks.

Although the members of the CBA’s book club haven’t selected a second read, Garrett is hoping they’ll choose a legal thriller in the vein of John Grisham, a favorite genre of hers. “I’d like for us to shake things up and take on a work of fiction next,” she says.

Higbee says she plans to continue to read the club’s selections and participate in the quarterly discussions, as they allow her to interact with attorneys she otherwise wouldn’t meet.

“I’m looking forward to us using our common experience of practicing law to exchange ideas about material that’s not directly related to our jobs,” she adds.

To inquire about participating in the book club, contact Garrett at cgarrett@chamblisslaw.com. She promises no “beach-read rom-coms” will be on the reading list.