Tag Archives: Scott Turow

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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Sequels and Prequels

“If you introduce a character that’s already familiar to somebody they have a vested interest.”   Sarah Bagby, managing partner of Watermark Books

One of the pleasurable facets of reading modern popular fiction is that once you discover an author (and it’s more likely to be a she than a he), you can read her earlier works and/or plan to read her future releases.   Once we arrive at a place of comfort with an author, we hope and presume that we will feel the same about separate works by that writer.   Generally each work will be separate, except when the author of fiction decides to create a series around a character, which is when we wind up with sequels and prequels.

The author who decides to extend a character’s life into a continuing series has a few minefields to deal with.   One is that people like continuity until they get tired of it.   Think of a new rock band with a successful initial CD.   Let’s call this band the Purple Onion (PO).   Everyone loved PO’s first album, Single Whammy, so when they release their follow-up album, Double Whammy, their fans are thrilled that it retains their “trademark sound.”   But what happens when Triple Whammy is released?   PO is then likely to be beaten up by both the critics and formerly rabid fans who say that they’ve become stuck in one place and have displayed little or no growth as musical artists.   (If Triple Whammy sounds nothing like the first two CDs, they are likely to get hammered for a different reason – for arbitrarily changing their style.)

An author faces the same issues in building a series of novels around a single character.   One example is Sarah Paretsky who has written for many years about the crusty Chicago-based detective V. I. Warshawsky.   Paretsky was praised for writing several “V. I.” books until some critics felt that the lead character had changed too much in later novels.   (Was V. I. getting soft?)   Her latest effort in the series was praised for being more like the original “V. I.” books.   Get back, V. I., back to where you once belonged!

So there’s a bend but do not break aspect to fashioning a lead character.   He or she must stay the same yet must evolve and grow the way most humans do in their own lives.   Suddenly the idea of hanging onto a main character doesn’t sound so easy, does it?

There’s also the fact that some readers may view the author as getting lazy, or feel that she/he is not challenging herself/himself enough.   What does one get out of writing about the same character(s) all of the time, except maybe a relatively safe source of income?   What about stretching oneself as an artist, a writer, by taking on new themes and styles?   This tends to be a valid critique, but only to a point.   That’s because authors like Richard Ford and John Updike wrote several books structured around a single character and both series were well-recognized with journalism’s highest awards.

The lesson here is that some skilled authors can write about the same character repeatedly and make it not only interesting but fascinating.   The key word, though, is skill.

Novels in a continuing fictional series based on a lead character tend to be sequels, but on occasion a writer decides to fashion a prequel.   This is a novel that deals with events that precede, rather than follow, the author’s introduction of a lead character.   In my view, prequels are much harder to write well because the mind of the average reader does not deal well with a character’s pre-introduction life…

Let’s say that I read a novel featuring detective L. A. Jones.   When I read the first book in which L. A. Jones appears he’s in his early forties.   If I finish this book and pick up the second in the series eighteen months later, it does not bother me that L. A. is now in his mid to late-forties; this seems natural.   But if I pick up the third book in the series and see that it deals with L. A. when he was a young man in his teens and twenties, it seems odd and hard to follow.   The mind tends to ask, “Why did the author do this?   I’m not interested in the character’s life before I knew (encountered) him!”

Yes, prequels can work in extending the life of a successful film or TV series, but that’s a bit different.   Fans of Star Trek, for example, so desperately wanted the series to continue in some form that they eventually learned to accept a prequel version.   But, when it comes to prequels in popular fiction, the words sung by Ringo Starr would seem to apply – “It don’t come easy.”

The take away point may be that an author who has developed a popular character would seem to have climbed on board the gravy train, and he/she would seem to be crazy to abandon that character.   But the public is extremely fickle about characters they’ve come to know and love.   These characters must stay the same while changing, but not too much so.

Perhaps the biggest issue, however, is with the author who fails to change his lead character enough.   One of the most critical and deadly comments is one that can often be found at Amazon.   It goes something like this, “I LOVED Joe Blow’s books about detective L. A. Jones and I bought every one!   But this book, the 17th in the series, stinks!   Joe Blow should have killed off detective Jones before now.   Blow’s now writing on automatic pilot, and these books are now nothing if not repetitive and boring.”

A fan of an author can go from loyalist to attack dog in an instant.   Woe to the author who creates a continuing character and lets that character over stay his/her welcome!   Better to let the character leave the stage a bit too early rather than far too late.

Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.   This article is one in a continuing series.

Pictured:   Innocent, the sequel to Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow; the sequel released 20 years after the original.

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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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A Preview of a True Story

Unbillable Hours: A True Story by Ian Graham will be released by Kaplan Publishing on May 4, 2010 (256 pages, $24.95).   The sub-title of this non-fiction book is:  A Young Lawyer, Big Law and a Murder Case That Saved Two Lives.   Here is the publisher’s synopsis:

The story – part memoir, part hard-hitting expose – of a first-year law associate negotiating the arduous path through a system designed to break those who enter it before it makes them.

Landing a job at a prestigious L.A. law firm, complete with a six-figure income, signaled the beginning of the good life for Ian Graham.   But the harsh reality of life as an associate quickly became evident.   The work was grueling and boring, the days were impossibly long, and Graham’s sole purpose was to rack up billable hours.   But when he took an unpaid pro bono case to escape the drudgery, Graham found the meaning in his work that he’d been looking for.   As he worked to free Mario Rocha, a gifted young Latino who had been wrongly convicted at 16 and sentenced to life without parole, the shocking contrast between the greed and hypocrisy of law firm life and Mario’s desperate struggle for freedom led Graham to look long and hard at his future as a corporate lawyer.

Clear-eyed and moving, written with the drama and speed of a John Grisham novel and the personal appeal of Scott Turow’s account of his law school years, Unbillable Hours is an arresting personal story with implications for all of us.

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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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