Audiobook Review: A Criminal Defense by William L. Meyers, Jr.

25 04 2017

A Criminal Defense by William L. Myers, Jr.

Read by Peter Berkrot

Brilliance Audio

Grade: C

So many legal thrillers are about a crusading defense attorney protecting the fragile rights of his downtrodden client against an over zealous prosecutor in a system skewed against them. Yet A Criminal Defense takes a different approach. It’s about a whiney entitled lawyer and a menagerie of asshats fighting an asshole prosecutor to protect a rich, unlikeable megalomaniac. All the characters are so unlikeable that despite how well constructed the lawyers intricate plans are you hope they all come crashing down and everyone involved is locked up in a shipping crate and sent out to sea, never to return. William L. Meyers delivers a lot of smart twists and managed to surprise me more than once yet all that was in service of characters who I just couldn’t find the latest motivation to care an iota about. 
I’m a fan of Peter Berkrot. With the right book he can suck you right into the story. Maybe this just wasn’t the right story. He just seemed like he was trying too hard. Most of these characters were that extra dull flavor of vanilla and had the personalities of robots stuck in the perpetual blue screen of death and trying to breathe life into them was about as futile as doing CPR on a crash test dummy. Plus, the first time I heard him call Wawa “Wall-Wah” I wanted to throw my delicious hot Wawa coffee in his face. (I’m a very sensitive Wawa enthusiast.) Part of my issue is that as a Philadelphian, I expect books set in Philly to have a Philly feel that just wasn’t there. Overall, this was the odd meshing of being impressed by the writer and intrigued by future work but hating this particular novel. 

Audiobook Review: Most Dangerous Place by James Grippando

6 04 2017

Most Dangerous Place (Jack Swytek, Bk. 13) by James Grippando

Read by Jonathan Davis

Harper Audio

Grade: B

Jame Grippando’s Jack Swytek series follows the tried and true legal thriller formula of boring white dude surrounded by a cadre of diverse quirky characters saves the world or, at least solves the case. As a boring white guy who likes legal thrillers, it’s a comforting ride with familiar characters. Not that the subject matter is always comfortable, in Most Dangerous Place Jack defends the wife of friend who may been involved in the brutal murder of the man who raped her. Throw in some corrupt Argentinian politics, dark family secrets, a controlling ex boyfriend and a conflicted prosecutor and you get a decent legal thriller that doesn’t break much new ground but will keep you invested in seeing how it all plays out. 
This was an interesting one for me as far as narration. Part of me wondered at first if having a female narrator take on the few chapters centered on Jack’s client, an Argentinian women who spent much of her time in Europe and Hong Kong would have been better, but since the entire book was written in the third person, and with Jonathan Davis’ mastery of the series regulars I felt continuity was probably preferable. Davis is a narrator that series regulars are comfortable with, and he continues his strong performances with this latest edition. 

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 Ophelia Cut by John Lescroart

12 08 2013

The Ophelia Cut (Dismas Hardy, Bk. 14) by John Lescroart

Read by David Colacci

Brilliance Audio

Length: 16 Hrs 20

Genre: Courtroom Thriller

Quick Thoughts:  Lescroart is a good writer who can create compelling characters, complicated situations and fascinating legal quandaries, but for me, this latest novel just really didn’t make the cut. With an unfocused narrative, unnecessary subplots and so much backstory that regular series readers already knew, The Ophelia Cut made me almost wish I chose the Abridged version instead.

Grade: C

Every time I read or hear an author say something like, “While the book is  part a series, each one can be read as a standalone” I inwardly cringe. I get the point. I really do. The author wants that new reader to walk into a store and grab his latest hardback about Joe Crapper, investigative Plumber, without having to buy The Snake in the Pipes, Floaters and Feeling Flushed first. It’s how they make their money. But, really… you can’t. It’s just not the same experience reading book 3 first, even if each book does stand on its own. Most series characters develop, get involved in relationships, and have an actual life outside of the one novel worthy mystery  per year that they solve, and a good series brings those things into the story making it more than just about somebody solving crimes or getting into adventures. There is a reason why so many people enjoy series, because you develop a relationship with these characters, and if this relationship is not linear, it can cause some strange dissonance. This is why I prefer to read series in order, starting from Book 1. This is why I get really frustrated when I impulse buy a book, and discover it is book 5 of an ongoing series and there was nothing to indicate that fact on the cover. Yet, there is another aspect of the “every story stands alone” school of thought that does a real disservice to an author’s core readers. It’s the many tricks and tools that authors use in each book to establish past relationships and events so that new readers don’t get lost. More and more I complain about ongoing science fiction series that have created “too big of a universe.” I am beginning to see this in mystery and thriller series as well. There are significant events that truly contribute to the actions and motivations of characters and without establishing these in detail for new readers, things just don’t make sense. It’s like the “Previously On” segments of TV shows without the ability to fast forward. As a reader, I want to get right to the core of the story, right to the crux of this tale, without needing to be reminded that 5 years ago Joe Crapper had an affair with Lydia Latrine during a forensic plumbing conference. I mean, as a longtime reader of the Joe Crapper novels, I should already know that shit, right?

I love Dismiss Hardy. Really, I do. He is one of my all time favorite Legal Fiction characters. John Lescroart’s The Thirteenth Juror is one of my all time favorite courtroom thrillers. Yet, over the past few years Lescroart has been branching off his series to stories focused on some of the peripheral characters, like Investigator Wyatt Hunt or DA Wes Farrell and I have found these less engaging. With this and some other  less than stellar recent novels, I have slowly begun to move Lescroart’s status from “Instant Must Listen” to “Check the Synopsis and Decide.” Yet, I was quite excited about his latest novel, The Ophelia Cut. Based on the synopsis, it seemed more like a classic Dismas Hardy Courtroom Thriller. When the Chief of Staff of a city Superintendent is brutally murdered, attention is focused on Dismas Hardy’s Brother in Law Moses, who was enraged after discovering the man had harassed and eventually raped his daughter. While Hardy takes the case, he has his own  agenda in play. Moses, an alcoholic who has fallen off the wagon, has knowledge of a secret that could destroy the lives of many, including Hardy himself. Overall, I found The Ophelia Cut to be, well, strange. The novels pacing was all over the place. It was well past the 6 hour mark before the crime that is the core of the novel even happens. The pacing was so bad, and so much series backstory that regular readers already knew filled the early part of the novel, I almost wished I had listened to the *gasp* Abridged version instead. The investigation, and the time between the arrest and trial felt extremely rushed. It was like Lescroart spent hours reminding us of what is on the line if Moses blabs, how despicable the murder victim was, and then WHAM BAM, we’re starting Voir Dire. I also felt like Lescroart had the opportunity to handle some interesting, and timely social and political issues, like Rape Culture, vigilantism and sex trafficking, and sort of just glossed over them. Now, I don’t need my authors to be preachy but I do think you can explore social issues without having them permeate the plot. Yet Lescroart spent more time on how stupid it was to arrest bartenders who serve underage drinkers than the exploitation of sex trafficking, which plays a significant part in the story. Even the red herrings that Lescroart laced the story with where unfocused, and rarely played any significant role when trial came. It was like Hardy discovered all this stuff, but either decided not to use it or couldn’t and you had to wonder why there were all these tangents early in the novel that had no impact on the end. Why have a corrupt politician in league with a organized crime figure, and a former dirty cop/hit man in the witness protection program dominate the early part of the story if it really had no impact on the trial or the outcome of the novel at all? Lescroart typically writes courtroom scenes full of significance and witness questioning with an almost rhythmic poetry, yet in this one, it falls flat. If this was my first time reading a Dismas Hardy novel I would think him a crap lawyer with very questionable ethics, which goes totally against the character that Lescroart has set up in the previous novels. It wasn’t all negative. I felt Lescroart did a good job setting up the ethical challenges of lawyers, and how outside influences may affect them, even if I don’t think these issues played true in these characters. There was also one moment at the end of the novel that I absolutely loved, and had me looking as some aspects of the book in a new light. Admittedly, Lescroart is a good writer who can create compelling characters, complicated situations and fascinating legal quandaries, but for me, this latest novel just really didn’t make the cut.

Typically, I like David Colacci. It’s been a while since I listened to a novel that he narrated, but I remember him being an engaging narrator with a good handle on the material. Yet, in The Ophelia Cut, I felt his performance was a bit flat. This had me thinking a lot about the relationship between the narrator and the text. Did I find his performance flat, because overall I found the story flat or was it the opposite? Would I have been more engaged with the tale if he read it with more vigor? I’m not sure. I tend to think it’s a combination. Narrators are people to, and sometimes, if they can’t engage with a story it has to affect their performance. I often talk about how you can hear it in a narrator’s performance when they are truly enjoying a book. I think the opposite it true. There was nothing technically wrong with his performance. He has been performing Lescroart’s books for years, and knows these characters. I just think, this one got away a bit from the author, and perhaps, this lead to the narrator, perhaps, not totally bringing his A game. I can’t really blame the guy.

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

Audiobook Review: Aftershock by Andrew Vachss

2 07 2013

Aftershock by Andrew Vachss

Read by Phil Gigante and Natalie Ross

Dreamscape Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 2 Min

Genre: Crime Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Aftershock is crime fiction at it best built around a solid cast of characters, with an intriguing mythology. Vachss covers many of his classic themes yet in a way that seems to have invigorated his writing, allowing him to explore these themes in new and fascinating ways. As always, there is a brutal reality to Vachss writing, with unapologetic characters and real human evil, yet Aftershock also contained an element that I haven’t always felt in Vachss writing, hope.

Grade: A

Over the past year or so, I have heard more and more talk about our "rape culture" and the "war on women." Now, in no way do I believe that these concepts weren’t discussed before, perhaps in just as much detail, but the past year I have become more and more attuned to this discussion. I’ll be honest, I*’m not someone who is overly qualified to discuss such issues. I had a grand total of one class in college on woman in politics, and it was more of a historical analysis, and that took place nearly 20 years ago. Yet, I do have feelings. Not many answers, but feelings. I know I have lost faith in our criminal justice system to deal with sexually based crimes. Years ago, I had a friend who was quite upset with me that I wasn’t a strident supporter of Megan’s Law, and the sexual registration of offenders. Not that I didn’t believe in what it was trying to accomplish, I just couldn’t get past the idea that if we need to set up such measures to protect ourselves from habitual sexual offenders, why were we letting them out of jail? I believed then, and I still do that no matter what laws we pass to protect people from predators, those predators will find a way not just to beat but to use it to their advantage. I find sexual predators more insidious, more harmful to our society than murderers. Sexual Crimes cause waves that rip through families, communities and history even more so than any other violent crime. I am not a supporter of the death penalty, but I would much rather see it used on those who exploit children and perform violent sexual assault then those who kill. One thing that truly bothers me is it seems that our criminal justice system is set up more to protect those who perform these acts, then the actual victims. I understand the need for this. I understand that it’s better for 100 guilty to go free than for 1 innocent man to be found guilty. Yet, how many victims of these horrific acts are we willing to accept to make sure we stay true to this founding precept. I have no answers. I just have questions.

When the star softball player, Marylou "Mighty Mary" McCoy walked into her high school with a gun, and shot and killed one boy and wounded two others, people were quick to view it as just another school shooting. Yet, Dolly, a former nurse who worked in war zones around the world, knew there was more to the story. She asks her husband Dell, a former Legionnaire in hiding with a past so mysterious even he can’t remember it all, to look into it. What Dell uncovers is an evil so insidious it has corrupted their seemingly idyllic town, putting everything he loves at risk. I have to say, Aftershock surprised me. When Vachss introduces us the Dell, and his violent back story, I expected this to be another tale of a dark vigilante exterminating a human evil. While this plays into Aftershock, it is far from its overriding theme. Vachss explores the corruption of the legal system that places more value in maintaining its reputation than is punishing evil, and how a few warriors for justice can make a difference.  Dell was a fascinating and complex character. He was unsure and awkward socially, but also able to inspire people to break away from what they believe was expected of them, and do what they believe was right. There were times when the fact that the story was filtered through Dell’s perspective that I became uncomfortable. Not with brutal yet clever solutions to problems, but in his quickness to slap labels on people based on physical and emotions shortcomings. Yet, there was a balance to this. While Dell was quick to label people he found reprehensible as things like "Pigface" he was often able to see past labels people had slapped onto others and discern their true nature, just not often in a polite socially acceptable manner.  The true beauty of this novel came in his other characters. Dell is a warrior, yet, Vachss doesn’t highlight the kind of warrior who can kill a man twenty different ways with his pinky. He highlights a woman who takes time to truly give girls a safe place to discuss issues that their teachers or parents would instantly judge them for. He shows us victims who were brutalized and humiliated, finally taking a stand against a system seemingly designed to marginalize them. He shows us warriors fighting within a corrupt system, whose exposure to violent crime can have extremely horrific affects. From psychologists and social workers, to victims and those who love them whether they are connected through DNA or not, these are the people who could win the fight. Vachss did something that I didn’t expect, he made me feel a little bit of hope that there are good people fighting the fight. On top of these themes, Aftershock is a solid legal thriller. I love legal thrillers, but I have been sick and tired of the down and out lawyer who finds redemption through a case, Here, instead, Vachss shows us a lawyer who finally discovers himself when he is willing to begin believing that he can make a difference. There is just so much I loved about Aftershock, and am quite excited that it’s the start of a new series. Dell and Dolly are two characters I really want to see more of. Aftershock is crime fiction at it best built around a solid cast of characters, with an intriguing mythology. Vachss covers many of his classic themes yet in a way that seems to have invigorated his writing, allowing him to explore these themes in new and fascinating ways. As always, there is a brutal reality to Vachss writing, with unapologetic characters and real human evil, yet Aftershock also contained an element that I haven’t always felt in Vachss writing, hope.

Part of me is really glad that I listened to Vachss’ anthology Mortal Lock before I listed to Aftershock, because it prepared me for the dual narration style of Phil Gigante and Natalie Ross. What I didn’t expect is how effective it would be in Aftershock. Phil was brilliant as always, and his interplay with Natalie was natural and flowing that I didn’t experience any of the dissonance this type of narration often gives me. What truly amazed me was Phil’s handling of the French scenes, which he spoke as if he was fluent in that language. I’m not sure if he is or not, but anyone listening to Aftershock will be more than ready to call him Le Gigante. Ross brought so much to this production, that for those small stretches where she wasn’t contributing I truly missed her. There are so many strong female characters in Aftershock, including Dolly, MaryLou, and a social worker who contributed highly to the defense, and Ross brings them all alive in vivid fashion. Yet, my favorite of her performances was that of Danielle, MaryLou’s sister. Ross helped create a character that simply gave me chills, for many reasons. Aftershock was a brilliant production and one of my favorite listens so far this year. If you have yet to experience the work of Andrew Vachss, Aftershock is a great place to start.

Note: Thanks to Dreamscape Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

Audiobook Review: A Case of Redemption by Adam Mitzner

13 06 2013

A Case of Redemption by Adam Mitzner

Read by Kevin T. Collins

Audible Inc.

Length: 10 Hrs 51 Min

Genre: Legal Thriller

Quick Thoughts: A Case of Redemption is an entertaining Legal thriller for hardcore fans of the genre, or those people who have never seen an episode of Law & Order, The Practice, LA Law or, hell, even that one with those two annoying dudes that currently airs on some damn cable channel. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either.

Grade: B-

There is nothing more important in children’s development then helping them foster a sense of self awareness in order to determine what paths there lives should take. It’s easy to tell a child that they should choose a job for security, for money, or because of some family heritage, yet these reasons may not allow a child to be happy. When I was younger, after wanting to be a missionary, a scientist, an award winning film maker, I finally settled on wanting a career in law. I even went to college as a political science major with the express purpose of one day attending law school. Adults had been telling me for years that I should be a lawyer, because I loved to argue. Then they would pat me on the head, ignore my well reasoned arguments, and go back to acting like condescending adults. Despite my love of arguing, there was one really reason I wanted to be a lawyer, I wanted to be able to yell "OBJECTION!" in a crowded room, and force people to pay attention to me. Yet, eventually, years of reading legal thrillers wore me down. It seemed these lovely, characters who get to yell objections at the top of their lungs were destined to become broken down, alcoholic, workaholic success junkies with failed relationships and little to no happiness. It seemed the only way they would be destined to achieve happiness was after they quit their big city firms in disgrace, get themselves into rehab and take on an unwinable case that in someway involves a beautiful and mysterious woman and really, I didn’t want to have to go through all that knowing in the end, I’d probably still be disillusioned or betrayed. So, yeah, maybe law wasn’t the best choice, but, occasionally, when no one is paying attention to me, I still like to yell out "OBJECTION!" or when someone really annoys me, scream “OVERULED!”

Attorney Dan Sorenson was on the fast track to success in his big city firm, when a drunk driving took away everything he held dear. 18 months later Dan is an unemployed drunk living off the insurance money from the accident. When a beautiful attorney approaches his with the case of Rap Artist Legally Dead accused of killing his pop Diva girlfriend, Dan sees the case as a chance to redeem himself for past cases and a way to get his life back on track. A Case of Redemption is a solid legal thriller that offers some great moments, but often falls flat along the way. I enjoyed A Case of Redemption but mostly because I am a legal thriller fan, and often enjoy a good courtroom procedural. After Mitzner’s excellent debut, A Conflict of Interest, I was hoping to be blown away with a big step forward in this legal thriller author’s career, yet, I felt the opposite. In a way, it seemed Mitzner was relying on the themes and tropes of the genre without developing them much on his own. Dan was definitely in a downward spiral, but I felt the transition from down and out drunk, to rejuvenated hero lawyer was too smooth. I was also uncomfortable a bit with the romantic subplot where the attractive, full breasted young attorney managed to make him forget all about his dead wife and child through helping him find meaning and some rigorous sex play. It all felt too easy. Mitzner is no slouch in the legal strategy department, and puts together an interesting case, but it felt too much like a blending of bad Law & Order subplots. For instance, from the very beginning Dan was faced with a hostile judge, yet Mitzner does nothing to set up why the judge was so against Dan and his client. I believe there probably were reasons she was so vehemently against Dan, but it was never really explored. Also, now, I’m no legal strategist but I have no clue why two attorney’s for whom money didn’t seem to be a major issue, didn’t even consider hiring a private investigators, instead ran around like a couple of doofus wannabe Magnum, PI’s alienating potential witnesses and basically blundering along. I think this was my main concern, Dan, this high powered and smart attorney, was simply a big doofas. He pissed people off when he didn’t have to, pushed buttons he should have avoided and basically made an ass out of himself. I mean, really, did he think showing up at the dead pop star’s mother’s house and saying, “Hey, was your dead daughter banging any old dudes?” a smart decision?  Along the way, Mitzner uses some clever plotting to hack out some really intriguing twists, but in all honesty, there wasn’t one surprise that I didn’t highly suspect at some point. A Case of Redemption is an entertaining Legal thriller for hardcore fans of the genre, or those people who have never seen an episode of Law & Order, The Practice, LA Law or, hell, even that one with those two annoying dudes that currently airs on some damn cable channel. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either.

Luckily, for me, A Case of Redemption was narrated by Kevin T. Collins, who at the very least makes things interesting. Collins has an ability to enhance the quirkiness of a novel or, when all else fails, create quirkiness out of thin air. He has a solid voice that just has a little something extra. I loved listening to him during the courtroom scenes. He captured the rhythms of the courtroom perfectly, giving it an almost poetic feel. I love how he handled the snarky judge, and the defeatist tone he gives Dan whenever she beat him down. Honestly, I shouldn’t have taken so much joy in the judge ripping Dan apart, but I just couldn’t help it. He even made the strange rejuvenation process of attorney down feel almost natural, giving him a bit more life as he immersed himself in the legal work of the case. One thing that Collins may need to work on is his rapping skills. He handled rapper Legally Dead well, but the rapping, was, well, Collins ain’t no Ghost Faced Killah or even an Eminem. Despite my harsh tone in my review, I enjoyed A Case of Redemption, and I think a big part of that was due to the excellent work of Kevin T. Collins.

Audiobook Review: The Lawyer’s Lawyer by James Sheehan

31 01 2013

The Lawyer’s Lawyer by James Sheehan

Read by Rick Zieff

Hachette Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 53 Min

Genre: Legal Thriller

Quick Thoughts: The Layer’s Lawyer grabbed me from the beginning, and kept me ensnared the entire time. Full of engrossing characters,  touching friendships, heart shaking twists and high stakes courtroom action, The Lawyer’s Lawyer sets the bar quite high for this year’s batch of Legal Thrillers.

Grade: A-

I have always considered myself a pretty solid pop culture armchair lawyer. I am not a lawyer, nor have I had any legal training beyond a few college courses. Yet, I have watched and read enough legal fare, both fiction and nonfiction, to get annoyed at episodes of Law & Order. I like to watch Legal TV Shows, and read Legal Thrillers and figure out my strategies, what I would do in a courtroom, and blather to my friends about why those idiotic fictional lawyers are doing wrong. In fact, before life got in my way, I wanted to go to Law School and become the next Bobby Donnell or Jack McCoy. Yet, in no way do I actually know even a percentage of what a Lawyer knows. The thing is, when I watch these shows or read the books, I like to be the analytic type. I got shocked when a fictional detective would fudge things in their investigation. Don’t they know that when they are hunting a serial killer they should go above and beyond to adhere to the law to prevent the killer getting off on a technicality? And what if they have the wrong guy!  I get livid with those cops, or even the victim’s families that rudely chastise Defense attorneys. These people are doing a very important job. Sometimes, in my desire to be the technical; analytical lawyer type, I forget that these cases are about people. Emotional and flawed people. People who want to bring the killer to justice. People who have their lives turned upside down. People who bring their own ethics and morality to a case.

After years running his own firm, Jack Tobin is now living in a small town in Florida, taking a few small cases, and working with a non-profit defending Death Row cases. When asked to take a look at the case of a potential serial killer on death row which he may have a personal connection to, Jack is hesitant. Yet, something about the case isn’t quite right, and Jack finds himself fighting for his life amidst public outrage, corruption and murder.  James Sheehan’s latest entry in the Jack Tobin series had me enthralled from the very beginning. While The Lawyer’s Lawyer offers everything fans of Courtroom thriller would want it goes beyond that to include a hunt for a deadly killer, a realistic adult love story, and a tale of obsession and revenge. This wasn’t a typical, by-the-number’s legal tale. Sheehan takes a lot of risks here, and it truly pays off. Sheehan does an excellent job showing the human side of the legal process, with its inherent flaws and its ability to be manipulated yet he also manages to maintain some levels of faith in the process. While I really liked Jack Tobin, at times I found him to be too upstanding. I’m not sure if it’s the cynical side of me, but some of the decision that Jack made, I had trouble seeing someone make. Yet, I think that Sheehan did a good job keeping Jack’s nature consistent. I also had some level of frustration with the ending. Not that the ending was bad. It was a little pat, and in someway justified many of the issues I had with Jack’s decisions. This was what bothered me. On some level, I wanted to think that my ideas were better than Jack’s so I wanted there to be more consequences when we disagreed. This is one of the problems for me with legal thrillers, I insert myself a bit too much in the narrative. Yet, it’s a true testament to Sheehan’s plots and the characters he develops that I became so invested in the story. There were moments in the story that made me so upset, I was literally yelling at the characters, or flinging profanities in their direction. The Layer’s Lawyer grabbed me from the beginning, and kept me ensnared the entire time. Full of engrossing characters, touching friendships and heart shaking twists, The Lawyer’s Lawyer sets the bar quite high for this year’s batch of Legal Thrillers.

This is my first experience with narrator Rick Zieff and I sincerely hope it’s not my last. Zieff takes over the Jack Tobin role from Disk Hill and doesn’t miss a beat. He has a pleasant but gruff voice, that’s gritty yet manages to capture the slick oratory of the courtroom. His characterizations are spot on and well considered. He uses the clues the author gives to create authentic voices infusing each character with life.He does a good job with the humor of the tale, delivery the snarky back in forth with the right amount of levity His pacing, whether it be the laid back jocular bar talk of Jack and his friends, or the almost hypnotic rhythms of the courtroom, was impeccable. I think what I really loved about Zieff’s performance was how it just felt real. I didn’t feel like I was being read to by a professional voice artist Instead, I felt pulled into the story like I was sitting in the gallery experiencing the action first hand. Zieff impressed me as a narrator, and I definitely will be looking for his name in the future.

Note: Thanks to Hachette Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

Audiobook Review: The Racketeer by John Grisham

15 11 2012

The Racketeer by John Grisham

Read by J. D. Jackson

Random House Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 45 Min

Genre: Legal Thriller/Crime Fiction

Quick Thoughts: The Racketeer is a highly complicated tale which is less of a legal thriller and more of a mix of confidence game and revenge thriller which pushes right up to the line of implausibility. I loved every minute of it.

Grade: A-

I have always had a bit of a strange relationship with John Grisham books. I remember oh so many years ago, when a friend of mine who never read gave me a copy of The Firm and told me I just had to read it. I did read it, and liked it. Then the movie came out, and the whole world loved it, but I kind of found the whole thing sort of a let down. It wasn’t until a few years later, after college, when one of my housemates had a copy of A Time to Kill that I gave Grisham another go. I loved A Time to Kill, and eventually began working my way through his books. For a while, it was great, and then I lost interest. There is a weird sort of experience with an author who has had so many of his books turned into movies. Outside of A Time to Kill, I don’t think I ever liked both the book and movie version of any of Grisham’s novels. I either loved the book, but hated the movie, like in The Runaway Jury, or found the book kind of "meh," like The Rainmaker, but then fell in love with the movie. Now, every year a Grisham novel comes out, and every year I find myself not caring. Yet, someone will say something, or I will read a review or article, or see John on an interview, and end up reading or listening to the novel. I was totally on the fence about Grisham’s latest, The Racketeer. I’ll be honest, the cover sort of made it look like an old time gangstery noir novel, which isn’t really Grisham’s bread and butter. What actually turned me around and decided to give this one a go was discovering it was narrated by a favorite narrator of mine. Sometime that’s all it takes.

Malcolm Bannister was a small town lawyer until he took on the wrong client. Now doing a 10 year stint in prison, swept into a RICO case he knew nothing about, Malcolm has lost everything. When a Federal Judge is murdered, Malcolm sees his chance for freedom. Armed with information that the FBI wants, Malcolm strikes a deal with the feds for his release and witness protection. Yet this is just the first step in a complex plan that Malcolm has set in motion. The Racketeer is a highly complicated tale which is less of a legal thriller and more of a mix of confidence game and revenge thriller which pushes right up to the line of implausibility. I loved every minute of it. Grisham has created a wonderful character in Malcolm Bannister. A simple small time lawyer whose experience being railroaded by Federal Government embitters him, while unleashing his inner criminal genius. Malcolm’s genius is a slowly burning, deliberately plodding type of genius that takes a long time to unfold. There are moments of The Racketeer that seems simply ludicrous. Series of events that have to happen just the right way for the story to work, but let’s face it, if it all crumbled apart it wouldn’t make much of a story. In the past, Grisham will often use a novel to highlight a social ill, yet, in The Racketeer, Grisham gives us mini-glimpses of a plethora of Government incompetence, from bloated and wasteful prison budgets, to the drug culture that is feeding the beast, with stops for Public corruption and single minded law enforcement along the way. Yet, most importantly, it’s simply a lot of fun. I think that there will be a huge split among Grisham fans, many will love it, but plenty will loathe Grisham’s complicated and often harebrained plot. I totally came down on the loving it side. While I won’t try to paint this as one of Grisham’s greatest novels, it’s the most fun I have had reading Grisham in many, many years.

JD Jackson reads The Racketeers with a slow, deliberate pace that perfectly matches the meticulously deliberate character of Malcolm Bannister. Jackson definitely gave a lot of thought to the approach he would take with this novel, and I feel his choice here was just right. Jackson always seems to find the music of the novel, whether it be a bit of funk, or some jazz, and he often serves as conductor of the rhythms of the novel as much as he does it’s voice. Here Jackson reads The Racketeers as a slowly developing piece of classical music, allowing the plot to build slowly through its characters until a wonderful dénouement. Along the way his tones a rich and pure, bringing flavor to the many characters you meet along the way. JD Jackson was the perfect choice for this novel and gives another performance to remember.

Audiobook Review: The Conviction by Robert Dugoni

25 07 2012

The Conviction by Robert Dugoni (David Sloan, Bk. 5)

Read by Dan John Miller

Brilliance Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 5 Min

Genre: Legal Thriller

Quick Thoughts: In The Conviction, Robert Dugoni is on top of his game, presenting us a tale of corruption and blatant disregard for the law by some of the most despicable antagonists I have come across in legal fiction. The Conviction is thrilling and disturbing, with some surprised twists that should keep seasoned mystery readers guessing, while others not even realizing they should be guessing.

Grade: B+

Sometimes I think I watch and read too many legal thrillers. One of the problems, particularly with TV, is this tendency for ripped from the headlines plotting. Now, I don’t think there is anything wrong with real life events influencing fiction, and I often find it interesting to see how the writers will twist a real life event into a 48 minute TV show, with some thrown in twists and interesting angles. The problem comes when real life events influence multiple TV shows, books, movies, puppet shows and narocorridos. Back in the day, I used to watch so much Law & Order that I would win bets against housemates by telling them an outline of the plots of an episode and who the perpetrator was, based solely on the opening scenes. Now, often times, I will annoy myself, because I will see an episode of Law & Order that is focused on some real life event, then within the next few months, I will see 3 or 4 other shows who also take on the event. Then, about a year later, I will read a book that again draws on the same plot. What annoys me most of all, is sometimes I am not even away of the real life event that inspired the shows, I just assume there must have been one since so many shows did there own twist on the event. Yet, every once in a while, I will come upon a show, that I assume is based on the same real life event, and suddenly, it will split off into something entirely unexpected. I like surprises like this.

In The Conviction, attorney David Sloan, known as the lawyer who never loses, is faced with one of the more challenging tasks of his life, getting through to his troubled teenage step son. Still shaken by the death of his mother, Jake Carter is in a downward spiral of alcohol abuse and violent behavior. Sloan reaches out to him, and along with his friend Tom Molina and Tom’s 14 year old some TJ, they head out on a camping trip. Yet, Jake manages to get himself and TJ in trouble, and railroaded by a megalomaniacal judge, and before David and Tom realize, both boys are shipped off to a boot camp like facility called Fresh Start. I have to admit, I thought I had The Conviction pretty much figured out from the start, and on some levels I did, yet, despite some telegraphed twists early on Robert Dugoni has created a fun, fast paced action thriller that managed on more than one occasion to kick my assumptions in the teeth. While I often decry the Legal Thriller that spends little time with the law, Dugoni’s tale is part Scott Turow and part Toy Soldiers, and it provides lots of tension and a few twists that will blow away the most seasoned skeptical mystery reader. While The Conviction is full of characters that fans of the David Sloan series has grown to love, the highlight of the novel is the assorted bad guys that you love to hate. Dugoni presents some of the more despicable antagonists, ones I long to see repeatedly struck in the face with a splintered baseball bat. I love when bad guys manage to really piss me off, because it only makes those moments of comeuppance even more satisfying. At times, The Conviction strained plausibility, or at least, I hoped it did. The scenes at Fresh Starts were terrifying and the level of corruption mind-boggling. The idea that people given our trust can act so egregiously for greed’s sake, placing our children in danger, really irks me, and I hope this is hyperbole on some level by the author.  In The Conviction, Robert Dugoni is on top of his game, presenting us a tale of corruption and blatant disregard for the law by some of the most despicable antagonists I have come across in legal fiction. The Conviction is thrilling and disturbing, with some surprised twists that should keep seasoned mystery readers guessing, while others not even realizing they should be guessing.

It’s been a while since I have listened to a book narrated by Dan John Miller. His performance in The Conviction was excellent. One of the toughest things for a narrator to do, in my opinion, is portray children characters in a believable way. Dan Jon Miller handled the roles of Jake, TJ and the other teenagers sentenced to Fresh Start brilliantly. I was quite impressed. He managed to capture the petulance of a troubled teenager perfectly without coming off overly whiney or sounding condescending. Miller’s reading was crisp, and his pacing firm. He handled the shifting perceptions of the complicated ending smoothly. While the majority of the audiobooks I have experienced being read by Miller where adult, I would be quite interested in hearing him take on a Young Adult novel.

Note: 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.