I’m usually not a fan of crime novels. Maybe it’s because I spent a decade visiting criminal courtrooms, about 35 of them in all, and got a feel for life in the justice field. It’s a field that is tough, gritty, not TV-glamorous, filled with personality conflicts and with people who are amazingly talented (prosecutors, defense attorneys, public defenders, law enforcement officers). This is not the world I find in most crime novels which tend to divide between 50’s retro-breezy crime tales (like Denis Johnson’s Nobody Move) and stories in which you can predict every bend in the road to come.
Attend a real-life criminal trial sometime and try to predict what’s coming… Good luck.
Then there’s author James Scott Bell who seems to get it. In Bell’s world, “…(a witness) sits on a wooden bench outside the courtroom. She looked like the rest of the multi-cultured family members scattered around the hall. Tense. Uncertain. Half suspecting the wheels of justice to be more like the Jaws of Life – cutting, crushing, grinding.” Bell should know as he worked for a major law firm in Los Angeles before working out of “an independent office.” It’s the latter set of experiences he seems to call upon in taking us along on a fun and fast journey through the world of criminal justice in the City of the Angels.
Bell writes of L.A. as someone who has clearly loved it his entire life. What seems to distress his characters the most is that the old L.A. appears to be gone; only Dodger Stadium seems to survive. In one scene, the main character wants a good steak and so meets his date at Morton’s on Figueroa. Perino’s? The Brown Derby? All gone.
Bell even turns negatives about the city into positives. In his L.A., the smog creates strange but beautiful orange-hued dusks and purple night skies.
I should briefly set the stage for this story, the third in a series. Criminal defense attorney Ty Buchanan, down on his luck and living like an orphan in a trailer, is asked to defend a young man accused of killing his own brother. Once the story starts, it speeds along faster than a ride in a Ferrari down Sunset Boulevard. You won’t be able to see what’s around the next turn, and during the pivotal criminal trial things don’t move forward logically (this is not Law and Order).
Making this story even more enjoyable is that Ty is a unique main character… His conversations call to mind Bruce Willis in Moonlighting. He’s funny but self-deprecating and seeks to help others to make up for some troubles in his past. It seems that when Ty was working for one of L.A.’s finest law firms he managed to get himself accused of murder. So long big law firm.
There’s also a love story here: in fact, two very different women have entered Ty’s life. One works for him (as a volunteer) and the other (a woman of some prosperity) seeks to work with him. It’s doubtful that Ty will love either the way that he loves his city – it’s no accident that L.A.’s City Hall is pictured on the cover – but on the final page of this story he makes a unique commitment to one of them.
Do I think I can predict what will happen in the next chapter of Ty Buchanan’s life? Absolutely not. Do I want to read the next crime novel in the Ty Buchanan series? Absolutely!