Tag Archives: James Scott Bell

Faking It

False Convictions by Tim Green (Grand Central Publishing)

“Even in the suit, (Judge) Hubbard’s thick neck and big glasses gave him the air of a character actor playing a bit part on a low-budget cable movie.   Jesse Jackson kicked into gear with kisses, solemn hugs and jive handshakes.”

This reviewer was expecting something more substantial than what is found in Tim Green’s latest legal novel.   This is not a courtroom drama in the style of Scott Turow or an exciting part real, part fantasy, novel like those written by John Grisham.   No, instead it comes off as simultaneously low-budget and overdone.

The three main characters are stereotypes, none of them quite believable.   One is a young and brilliant shark of a lawyer, Casey Jordan, who, naturally, makes men melt at the sight of her in short skirts.   Another is a young male reporter who is God’s gift to women and knows that he’s more beautiful than Casey.   And lastly there’s the billionaire who can drop $2 million in a single afternoon in order to have Brad Pitt, Al Gore and Jesse Jackson join him at a press conference.   He also happens to move about in the fastest non-military airplane known to the world.

Stop me if you’ve heard this plot before.   A highly attractive young white woman is raped and savagely murdered.   The law enforcement authorities decide to arrest a young black man for the crime, and he’s sentenced to prison for the rest of his life.   Only maybe he didn’t do it.

In order to rectify injustices like this our friendly billionaire establishes a project to give sight to the blinded Lady Justice.   He offers Casey, who is so incredibly successful that she’s already been the subject of a TV movie, a cool $1 million retainer to take on the defense of only two wrongly convicted persons.   The billionaire may be Batman but he needs lawyers like Casey to serve as Robin.

The typical reader is going to expect a lot of twists and turns before things are resolved and the wrongly convicted person is freed.   Except that everything falls into place too quickly and about sixty-five or seventy percent of the way through this novel, the innocent guy is freed while one Judge Hubbard hangs out with Al Gore, Brad and Jesse.   Wait a second, there are too many pages left for this to be the end, which means…

Yes, the old fly in the ointment event occurs and everything suddenly goes to heck in a hand basket.   The best laid plans of billionaires go awry.   The same goes for the plot of this novel.   It goes into overtime before the game has been played out.

If Green had stopped when all the loose ends were tied, he might have been credited with serving up a nice little novella.   But this one goes on a bit too long and, strangely enough, it’s hard to spot the author’s legal training in the telling.

The reader seeking a fun novella in this genre might like Denis Johnson’s campy Nobody Move, just released in trade paperback form.   Or novels like Try Fear or Try Darkness by the highly talented James Scott Bell.   And then there’s True Blue by David Baldacci.   All of these are rides in a fastback mid-engine Porsche compared to Green’s tale, which felt to this reviewer like a ride down the block on a Vespa.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was received from Grand Central Publishing.

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Risky Business

Risk: A Novel by Colin Harrison

Risk is a crime novel, it might be said, that is not what it purports to be.   It is the story of one George Young, a lawyer at an insurance firm, who is asked to solve a mystery.   The mystery has to do with how and why the son of the firm’s late founder was killed in an apparent accident in New York City.   Young feels that he owes his good fortune in life to the late Mr. Corbett who rescued him from a lackluster existence as a prosecutor.   Therefore, he agrees to try to solve the mystery without a fee.

But Young is actually less a lawyer than an insurance fraud investigator, so investigating a suspicious death would appear to be right up his alley.   Then there’s the fact that this is actually a 174-page novella, or a two-thirds scale novel.   It often reads like a movie manuscript, quick with easy-to-visualize scenes and light on character development.

Risk would be a perfect book to read while commuting since the story is not too complex or demanding.   Harrison’s style as an author calls forth James Scott Bell (Try Fear), who writes of crime and dark figures with tongue a bit in cheek.   George Young, like Bell’s lead figure Ty Buchanan, plays investigator with a smirk and sometimes a joke.   He’s a bit too relaxed to be real and would probably be played by a young Bruce Willis-type in a film version.  

Come to think of it, the plot of Risk has some parallels to Try Fear, but we’ll put that aside…   In the end, Risk was less satisfying for two reasons.   First, the editing/proofing could have been better.   It was unsettling to come across mixed tense sentences, as in this example:  “All I wanted to do was go home and have dinner with Carol, maybe sit out on our balcony and drink some cheap wine while we ate.   Usually I ask if she’s heard from our daughter, Rachel, who was in her first year of college then.”   I think these sentences would have been correctly written as, “All I wanted to do back then was go home and have dinner with Carol…  I usually asked my wife if she’d heard from our daughter Rachel, who was in her first year of college.”   (Another sentence refers to, “…leaving life itself altogether.”   That’s about two words too many.)

More troubling was the implausible ending – a movie script cliché – which tied things up neatly but turned the tale into a shaggy dog story.   I’d stay away from this one unless you’re the type of reader who enjoys chasing his or her own tail.

A review copy was supplied by Picador and Library Thing.

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Try Fear & Have Fun

Try FearI’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!

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Coming Up Next…

Try Fear 3A review of Try Fear by James Scott Bell.

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