Audiobook Review: The Last Alibi by David Ellis

17 09 2013

The Last Alibi by David Ellis (Jason Kolarich, Bk. 4)

Read by Luke Daniels and Tanya Eby

Brilliance Audio

Length: 13 Hrs 48 Min

Genre: Legal Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Ellis tales a lot of risks with The Last Alibi, transforming his series and it’s signature character while adding a much needed different perspective. It’s an intricately plotted, unique legal thriller reestablishing David Ellis as one of the most innovated writers working in the genre today.

Grade: A-

As I huge Legal Thriller fan, I have to admit that so far, 2013 has been kind of a bust. After 2012, which gave us excellent Legal Thrillers like William Landay’s Defending Jacob and Adam Mitzner’s A Conflict of Interest, I found my love of the subgenre to be renewed. Yet, so far, outside of James Sheehan’s The Lawyer’s Lawyer, I have been under whelmed by the genre this year. Honestly, I really didn’t expect David Ellis to pull me out of my legal thriller funk. In fact, I wasn’t even sure if I was going to give the latest Jason Kolarich novel a go. When I first discovered David Ellis I thought he was one of the most innovative Legal Thriller authors out there. His debut Line of Vision was so outside the norm for legal thrillers that I couldn’t wait to see what he did next. His thriller, In the Company of Liars proved he could take on an incredibly complicated plot, told in a unique manner, and make it accessible and exciting. Even when he started his series staring Jason Kolarich, it was fresh and exciting. Yet, slowly, Kolarich went from complicated lawyer, to traditional thriller star, and I just lost interest. It is the typically road many Legal Thriller authors take their series character’s on, pushing them more and more to the forefront of the tale, the action star, cop, detective all wrapped into one complicated bundle, and honestly, it started to bore me. I can understand why so many people like it. Why keep our character behind the scenes, when he can do the legal maneuvering, and become the gun toting savior as well? Yet, I love legal thrillers, because I like the action of a courtroom and the behind the scenes players. I don’t need them running around gunning down baddies and rescuing innocents. Yet, some people I respect and trust, including a trusted blogger and the series narrator Luke Daniels encouraged me to give it ago. So, ago was given. Let’s see how it all turned out.

Jason Kolarich is in a downward spiral. After a severe knee injury, he has become addicted to painkillers, which he is hiding from his best friend and law partner Shauna Tasker. He no longer gets the surge from courtroom battles he once did, and his new girlfriend is lavishing him with sex, ego boosting and oxycotin. When his new client, James Drinker, informs him he thinks he is being set up for a series of brutal killings, and asks Jason just how someone would frame someone for murder, Jason never expected that he would be the one set up. Now, on trial for murder, his secrets exposed, Jason must find a way to get his life back on track and prove his innocence. David Ellis returns to his roots, by totally shaking up his series. Jason Kolarich is no longer the smooth as silk, can do no wrong action star lawyer, but a broken man with questionable judgment. Ellis blends multiple storylines, Kolarich’s strange relationship with his clingy girlfriend, his addiction to pain killers and his dealings with the strange James Drinker, with the POV of Shauna, who handles Jason’s defense. Ellis tells the story nonlinearly, juxtaposing each storyline with  Jason’s trial, allowing us to see how each moment influences another, and giving us multiple looks at it from differing perspectives. This is exactly the kind of intricate plotting and unique storytelling that excited me about Ellis’s early work, and again he pulls it off splendidly. Fans of the series may be frustrated. Ellis takes lots of chances with his character, taking him from someone you respect, to someone you pity and are more than slightly disgusted by. This is a very risky move with a series character. Many will want Jason to remain the hero, but in The Last Alibi, the hero role is decidedly Shauna’s and she is quite the engaging, but utterly reluctant hero. Ellis manages to humanize his characters is ways that I found brilliant. While the courtroom scenes lacked a bit of the intensity that you can find in other examples of the genre, the plot is displayed in such a complex and surprising way, that the tension lingering on the borders of the trial more than make up for it. Ellis’s final reveal is surprising and satisfying. There is a moment where it all just clicks together, leaving you shaking your head in the throws of the “I should have figured it out” moment. The Last Alibi restored my belief that David Ellis is one of the most innovated plotters working in the Legal Thriller subgenre today. 

You would think I would be upset that parts of this tale were taken away from narrator fave Luke Daniels but really I wasn‘t…. I swear. Luke Daniels once again brings his skills to David Ellis’s characters, but the addition of Tanya Eby handling the Shauna perspectives only added to the production. As always, in these kinds of productions, you have to get used to two different voices bringing the same characters to life, yet the dissonance in this style were muted by the excellent performances. Both narrators were able to tap into the complicated emotional turmoil of both perspective characters, humanizing them, and accentuating their struggles. I have always though that audio, with the right narrator, does better with cha1racters that are flawed and struggling, and this is proven true in The Last Alibi. Jason’s fight with addiction and Shauna’s dealing with Jason’s instability and betrayals become even more real through the work of both narrators. The pacing of the audio production is solid, keeping the tension alive. This is more of a heady novel than an action thriller, yet the narrators manage to keep the suspense burning throughout the entire book. The Last Alibi is one of the top legal thrillers of the year, and a welcome reemergence of David Ellis as a unique practitioner of the genre.

Thanks to Brilliance Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

Audiobook Review: The Wrong Man by David Ellis

5 07 2012

The Wrong Man by David Ellis (Jason Kolarich, Bk. 3)

Read by Luke Daniels

Brilliance Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 58 Min

Genre: Legal Thriller

Quick Thoughts: The Wrong Man isn’t David Ellis’ best work, with too many incongruent subplots muddling the story. Yet, legal thriller fans should have fun with some complex issues and the legal gymnastics of this tale, as well as getting a better grip on just who this Jason Kolarich fellow is.

Grade: B-

As someone who reads a lot of legal thrillers I often define an author by his main series character. These authors have created this character, with friends and love interests, moral codes and legal styles and builds cases around them. You have sometimes naive do-gooders like William Berhardt’s Ben Kincaid or James Grippando’s Jack Swyteck. You have ethically flexible practitioners like William Lashner’s Victor Carl or Michael Connelly’s Mickey Haller. Andy Carpenter loves dogs, Dismas Hardy loves his frying pan and Nina Reilly love Lake Tahoe. I have read a ton of these series and each time I pick up a book, I have a pretty vivid picture of the series star in my head, and know the author will create interesting cases that fit these characters right. Yet, this isn’t the experience I have had with Jason Kolarich, the protagonist of three Legal Thrillers by David Ellis.  I have been a big fan of Ellis since his first novel, Line of Vision and I think he is one of the more compelling legal thriller authors out there. Only recently has he begun to write novels with a continuing protagonist, and while the books have been good, I haven’t yet really gelled to the series star. I think this is because in part, the cases have seemed to outshine the character. Kolarich has been through a lot in these three books, yet, right before starting The Wrong Man, I realized I remembered almost nothing about him. I remember the cases well, yet the man has never really stuck in my head. Not ever have I heard of a case, and thought, "that would be a case for Jason Kolarich" like I have with other legal thriller characters. I think this is because Ellis has created a malleable character that he pushes into shape for the case, instead of allowing the character to define the book.

In The Wrong Man, a young paralegal is found shot dead in a alley, and Mike Stoller, a homeless Iraqi war vet is discovered with her purse and the murder weapon. Arrested and interrogated, Stoller seemingly confesses to killing her in a PSTD flashback, but is deemed fit to stand trial and given a Public Defender. Yet, after witnessing Kolarich in a trial, Stoller’s aunt gets the lawyer to agree to look into her nephew’s case. This is seemingly just the case for Jason Kolarich. The Wrong Man was a decent legal thriller with some interesting courtroom strategy that gets a bit bogged down in cliché and distractions.  Ellis tries to combine a typical courtroom thriller with a vast domestic terrorism conspiracy subplot that while doesn’t totally fit together well, at least makes things interesting. Yet, added on top of that is a mafia hitman angle that just totally goes off the rails, with a telegraphed twist I could see coming for miles even without my glasses on. The end result was quite muddled, but there was enough that did work to allow me to have some fun with it. Ellis does spend more time here developing Kolarich as a character, putting enough ethical and legal conflicts into place and forcing him to make tough decisions that you start to get a true sense of the man. Ellis also writes some very crisp trial scenes where our hero’s brilliant machinations aren’t as brilliant as he things. I like the fact that as a lawyer, Kolarich wasn’t infallible, although he did fall into traps even this lay reader could see coming. The Wrong Man isn’t David Ellis’ best work, with too many incongruent subplots muddling the story. Yet, legal thriller fans should have fun with some complex issues and the legal gymnastics of this tale, as well as getting a better grip on just who this Jason Kolarich fellow is.

Luke Daniels continues his work on this series and does a fine job. While this audiobook, like most legal thrillers, doesn’t present too many challenges to this seasoned narrator, he does a good job with some of the more colorful characters showing up in the tale. He handles the pacing of the legal proceedings well, capturing a courtroom rhythm that comes off crisp and precise while maintaining a realistic organic feel. The strange part is, that my least favorite part of the book, which was the mafia angle, was where Daniel’s does his best work. This section was filled with the more oddball characters, and actually provided the rare moments of humor in this tale, and when Daniels has something to really work with, he totally shines. The Wrong Man definitely has its moments and the skills of the narrator helps smooth over some of the rougher patches making it a decent and entertaining listen.