Tag Archives: legal thriller

Suspicious Minds

The Adversary by Reece Hirsch (Thomas & Mercer, $14.95, 382 pages)

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Attorney Chris Bruen is the central character in this, author Reece Hirsch’s second thriller. The timing of the premise couldn’t be better; cybercrimes are rampant as of this reviewer’s read. Between the Target credit card debacle over Christmas 2013 and the outing of the National Security Agency by Edward Snowden, the believability of this story is high.

Chris Bruen is an intellectual property attorney whose career path has moved him from being a federal Department of Justice prosecutor for computer crimes to private practice in San Francisco, California where he has traded public service for greater pay. His work is basically the same; although his clients are in the private sector.

The client paying for Bruen’s time and expertise this time around is BlueCloud, a giant in the operating systems universe. While in the short term a dead hacker in Amsterdam halts his search for the company’s problems, the trail that opens up provides Bruen with nearly unlimited challenges. The cast of characters expands as the plot thickens. There are constant reminders of shifting values and allegiances among the people he must move to arrive at a solution to BlueCloud’s dilemma.

Along the way, Gruen visits many locales in addition to Amsterdam, including Barcelona and Paris. Everywhere he goes doubt and suspicion are his companions. The tech talk used by the characters seems reasonable and its accuracy appears to be spot on. The shifting scale of universality of technology is a stark contrast to the scale of warfare raged among a small number of human troops that dominate the world in which Bruen labors.

Author Hirsch keeps the pace moving smartly with mounting tension and lurking evil. Although Bruen’s cancer diagnosis reveal in the early pages of the book plants a seed of doubt for the reader, it is hopefully not the last we see of him as he is an entirely agreeable character. Please keep us supplied with new stories Reece Hirsch, Esq.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

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“Reece Hirsch is writing and running with the big boys.” John Lescroart, New York Times bestselling author.

A review copy was provided by the author. Reece Hirsch is also the author of The Insider: A Novel.

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Ring of Fire

Guilt by Association: A Novel by Marcia Clark (Mulholland Books; $25.99; 368 pages)

It may be a shame that Marcia Clark spent so many years as a prosecutor for the County of Los Angeles.   I say this because she’s such a talented writer, as is made clear by this fun romp of a criminal justice novel.   Because the book’s protagonist, Rachel Knight, just happens to be a Deputy District Attorney who works in the L.A. County Criminal Courts Building (the beloved CCB) one would think that there’s a bit of Ms. Clark in the character.   Maybe, maybe not…  Rachel Knight may be a bit more daring than Clark was in real life.

One surprise is to be noted up front.   This is not a courtroom novel.   No scenes take place inside of a courtroom, so this is not a Scott Turow-style read.   Basically, this is the story of a prosecutor who decides to become a criminal investigator, off of the time sheets and without the approval of her supervisors.   As Guilt by Association begins, Knight is celebrating a victory with fellow DDA Jake Pahlmeyer and LAPD Detective Bailey Keller.   It’s not long before Pahlmeyer is found dead downtown, in a seedy hotel room with a 17-year-old boy; and there’s a nude photo of the boy in his suit jacket pocket.   Knight’s supervisors quickly tell her to keep her “hands off” of the murder investigation involving her best friend in the criminal justice system.

Being a bit of a rogue, Knight involves Bailey in her effort to clear the late Pahlmeyer’s name in a city where scandals are less than a dime a dozen.   And as she does so, she also has to take over one of Jake’s cases – one that involves the rape of a 15-year-old girl, the daughter of a very prominent physician.   Are the two cases somehow related?   Maybe, maybe not…  You’ll have to read this criminal justice system mystery to find out, and to learn the meaning of the rather intriguing title.

You never know what’s coming around the curve…  Reading Guilt by Association is like taking a ride down the virtually mythical Mulholland Drive in a new Tesla roadster.

This reviewer does offer a prediction for the future of this protagonist.   My money is on Rachel Knight’s getting fired by the D.A.’s office, and working as an embittered newly licensed private investigator who uses every contact in her address book to solve some of the county’s toughest and meanest crimes.   Not only will it make a series of great reads, but quite possibly a new hit TV show.   Rachel Knight, PI – it somehow sounds just right!

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Guilt by Association will be released on April 20, 2011.

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Empty Pages

Sometimes, but fortunately not too often, I receive an e-mail from an author or publicist that says, in effect, “Why haven’t you reviewed the book that was sent to you?”   In thinking about this, there are probably a lot more reasons for a book to fall off of the TBR (to be read/reviewed) stack than are readily apparent to the average person.   I’ll go over some of them here.

Please Mr. Postman

Some books get lost in the mail, or mistakes are made in the mail room.   On occasion, I’ve received a book that looks like it shouldn’t have been sent to me but it’s usually from a publisher I know.   That leads me to think that another reviewer has been sent the book that I was interested in.   I’m sure it happens.

Obviously, since the people staffing publishers’ mail rooms are human, mistakes can and do happen.   There was a particular book that I had slotted to read at a specific time and it never arrived.   I brought this to someone’s attention and was told that another copy was going out that evening.   What I wound up receiving was a very nice package with nothing inside of it – no book and no papers.   Good intentions, but no luck.

Oh, and mail is certainly delivered to the wrong place these days.   I now know which of our neighbors receives ESPN Magazine or Sports Illustrated or Power Tools Today based on the mailman dropping them in my box.   It’s not too hard to figure that some of the books intended for me wind up as a free gift enjoyed by a close or distant neighbor.

Time is Tight

When I request a particular book – weeks before a review will appear – I have no way of knowing what other similar books will be released at the same time.   And on this site we deliberately try to review a wide variety of books, not just one of a kind.   So if I request a legal thriller and it shows up when I thought it would, and at a time when I’ve just finished a family novel and a children’s book, I will go ahead and read/review it as earlier planned.   But let’s say that I’ve just read two legal thrillers, and my wife has finished one, when your legal thriller arrives.   It’s going to be put aside because, unfortunately, it arrived at the wrong time.   We don’t want to be known as Legal Thriller Review.   (The same story gets played out for many genres, unfortunately.)

There’s also the fact that books arrive either earlier than expected or later.   Publication dates also change.   I have instances where I’m reading a book for a review to appear shortly, only to find that the publication date has been moved back a few months.   That leads me to close the book.   Contra, I may plan to read a forthcoming, not yet released book by a particular author, only to go to Borders and find out – yes, this did recently happen to me – that it’s been released for sale earlier than expected.   Again, the apple cart gets upset.

I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party

Every now and then, for a sense of variety, I agree to take part in a book blog tour.   What this usually means is that I’m sent a forthcoming book and asked to select a date, within a particular window (usually a period of 2 or 3 weeks), when my review will appear.   I usually try to pick one of the final dates available.   If I start reading the book and love it, and everyone whose review appears prior to mine loves it, everything is fine.   But now and then I’m reading a blog tour book that I just do not like.   If I see that everyone else has written a glowing review and mine is going to be the one extremely negative one, I will tell the publicist that I’m pulling out of the tour.   I will still post my own review but on my own schedule.   I have no need to rile things up on the blook tour party.

I’m Down

As I’ve said before, there are some books that I receive and read but I refrain from writing reviews about them.   Why?   It’s generally not that they are bad, just not unique enough to make for an interesting review.   Let’s say, for example, that I’m reading one of five new Paul McCartney bios that are out this year.   I finish it and find that it’s full of the same stories told in 10 prior McCartney-related books.   Do I really want to write a rather boring review stating, “This book is a rehash of the same old stories…”?   OK, sometimes I will write that but only if I think I can say it in an interesting way.   Often, though, the same old thing is just not worth writing about.

Joseph Arellano

To be continued…

Pictured:  The Neighbors are Watching: A Novel by Debra Ginsberg, which will be released by Crown on Tuesday, November 16, 2010 (and which will be reviewed on this site on that date or earlier).

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Nowhere to Run

The Insider by Reece Hirsch (Berkley Books; $7.99; 330 pages)

Reece Hirsch employs a confident narrator’s voice to draw in the reader in this, his debut mystery novel.   What seems to be a nice change of pace with opening scenes devoid of terror, soon shifts as a startling event culminates in a gruesome death.

The main character is Will Connelly, an aspiring fourth-year associate with a prestigious San Francisco law firm.   Will’s gullibility may be alarming to the reader.   He has a very promising future with the firm; however, for a fellow being considered for an equity partnership, Will’s short on street smarts.   Perhaps that failing can be attributed to four 2,400 plus billable hour years?   His dedication to work has left him without a steady girlfriend.   Will’s decision to go out and, on a whim, fall into a barroom pickup may just be a way to let off steam.   Questionable actions like this create not-so-subtle plot turns and complications.

The shifting story tempo continues as two Russian gangster-wannabes and the negotiations for a super-big Silicone Valley acquisition vie for the reader’s attention.   The notions of lurking threats, pain and criminal charges keep Will off-balance for the duration of the story.

Hirsch makes the city of San Francisco serve as the backdrop for the book’s action.   A trip to Silicone Valley and an outing on the bay round out the list of locations visited.   There is rarely a moment of downtime as the plot ensnares more characters.   Ironically, the Russian gangsters and the attorneys are portrayed as complex folks who want to climb the ladder of success and enjoy the fruits of their labors.

“With his immaculate gray suit and perfectly coiffed salt-and-pepper hair, he looked as if he had been genetically engineered to make board presentations.”

The Insider joins a group of this reviewer’s favorite novels that make San Francisco their home.   The other two books are Death in North Beach by Ronald Tierney and Jessica Z by Shawn Klomparens.

This book is highly recommended as an entertaining Grisham-like look at the pressures of corporate law practice.   Let’s hope most mergers and acquisitions are not as painful!

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   A review copy was provided by the author.

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Win Blind Man’s Alley

Thanks to Judy at Doubleday, we have a copy to give away of Blind Man’s Alley: A Novel by Justin Peacock, the author of A Cure for Night.   This book has a retail value of $26.95 and this is a first-run hardbound copy.   The novel is said to be “an ambitious and compulsively readable novel set in the cutthroat world of New York real estate.”   Here is the official synopsis:

A concrete floor three hundred feet up in the Aurora Tower condo development in SoHo has collapsed, hurling three workers to their deaths.   The developer, Roth Properties (owned by the famously abrasive Simon Roth), faces a vast tangle of legal problems, including accusations of mob connections.   Roth’s longtime lawyers, the elite midtown law firm of Blake and Wolcott, is assigned the task of cleaning up the mess.   Much of the work lands on the plate of smart, cynical, and seasoned associate Duncan Riley; as a result, he falls into the powerful orbit of Leah Roth, the beautiful daughter of Simon Roth and the designated inheritor of his real estate empire.

Meanwhile, Riley pursues a seemingly small pro bono case in which he attempts to forestall the eviction of Rafael Nazario and his grandmother from public housing in the wake of a pot bust.   One night Rafael is picked up and charged with the murder of the private security cop who caught him, a murder that took place in another controversial “mixed income” housing development being built by…  Roth Properties.   Duncan Riley is now walking the knife-edge of legal ethics and personal morality.

Blind Man’s Alley is a suspenseful and kaleidoscopic journey through a world where the only rule is self-preservation.   The New York Times Book Review said of A Cure for Night that “(Peacock) heads toward Scott Turow country…  he’s got a good chance to make partner.”

In order to enter this book giveaway contest just post a comment here, with your name and e-mail address, or send that information via e-mail to Josephsreviews@gmail.com .   This will be considered to be your first entry.   For a second entry, tell us who your favorite crime or courtroom drama author is – Scott Turow, John Grisham, Steve Martini, Julie Compton, Jonathan Kellerman, Robert Rotenberg of Canada (City Hall), John Verdon (Think of a Number), David Baldacci or someone else?

You have until midnight PST on Sunday, October 10, 2010 to submit your entry or entries.   The winner will be drawn by Munchy the cat and will be contacted via e-mail.   In order to enter this contest you must live in the continental U.S. and have a residential mailing address.   Books will not be shipped to a P.O. box or a business-related address.

This is it for the “complex” contest rules.   Good luck and good reading!    

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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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Riders on the Storm

Rescuing Olivia by Julie Compton

Julie Compton has produced an engaging and unique mystery in this, her second novel.   Such is the good news.   The bad is that in reading Rescuing Olivia I was reminded of The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond which shared the same two stylistic drawbacks.  

I loved Richmond’s novel No One You Know which had a near perfect start-to-finish flow.   But Fog was, in Richmond’s own judgment, “somewhat drawn out.”   There was also the distracting fact that a story very comfortably set in northern California was diverted in part to Nicaragua.   As I wrote earlier, “This seemed quite unnecessary.”

Rescuing Olivia is a good story but harder to read than Compton’s legal thriller Tell No Lies.   And while Olivia is just 16 pages longer than Lies, it felt drawn out.   It felt quite a bit longer.   Further, this story set in Florida (the author’s home state) is arbitrarily moved to Africa in what becomes essentially a second book.   I could not understand the need for the device.   It seemed, once again, unnecessary.

Story wise, Olivia presents a movie-like plot.   Anders Erickson is an everyday guy whose girlfriend Olivia Mayfield is quite rich.   Olivia’s picked out an initially reluctant Anders to be her boyfriend rather than vice-versa.

“Anders had known all along…  that he was but a blip on the radar screen of her life.”

Anders has never had an accident riding his motorcycle until he and Olivia are run off the road by a large black Mercedes sedan.   Olivia winds up in the hospital in critical condition and Anders is led to believe that she’s died from her injuries; that is, until he finds out that she’s been taken away.   The responsible parties may include her controlling father and her former fiancée.    Anders vows to find Olivia before she’s further harmed or killed.

Yes, this is a great set-up, but the execution is just not as smooth as it was in Lies.   There never seemed to be a loose thread in Lies, but in Olivia a few patches are visible.   Part of this is due to character development.   Anders is real and sympathetic.   Olivia is presented with the right amount of mysteriousness for a leading lady.   It’s the other characters that seem to be less than plausible, from Anders’ best friend Lenny, to his former girlfriend Shel.   Then there’s the African native Makena, an employee of the Mayfield family, who raised Olivia from birth.   From first appearance, the reader is given the impression that Makena is a critical character yet the story could have been told without her.

But don’t let me give you the wrong overall impression.   Once you begin reading Rescuing Olivia, you will want to keep reading to see how the mystery of Olivia’s disappearance is resolved.   The same is true of the Anders-Olivia love story.

The criticisms here result from the natural difficulty Compton encountered in fashioning a follow-up to the almost flawless Tell No Lies.   I’d like to think that she might present us with another taut legal thriller in the next year or so.   A Scott Turow-like courtroom drama would be just fine.

Actually, forget about the comparisons to Turow or Grisham…   I have the feeling that Compton’s got the stuff to deliver her own blockbuster in the not-too-distant future.

Recommended.

A review copy was provided by Minotaur Books.

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