Jake Lassiter Never Intended to be a Hero…Mission Accomplished

jake lassiter muses about the courtroommage

Excerpt from “FOOL ME TWICE,” available in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audiobook. A Kindle Unlimited title.

The setup: Before Jake Lassiter is accused of murder, the world weary lawyer is plying his trade in court, defending a con man named Blinky Baroso. We go inside his head:

My name is Jake Lassiter.

I am broad-shouldered and sandy-haired, and my neck is always threatening to pop the top button on my shirt. I have a crooked nose – thanks to a forearm through my facemask – and I look more like a longshoreman than a lawyer.

I am not invited by Ivy League institutions to lecture on the rules of evidence or the fine art of oral advocacy. Downtown lawyers do not flock to the courthouse to see my closing arguments. I was one of the few lawyers in the country not solicited by the television networks to comment on the O. J. Simpson case, even though I am the only one to have missed tackling him—resulting in a touchdown—on a snowy day in Buffalo about a million years ago.

I don’t know the secrets of winning cases, other than playing golf with the judges and contributing cash to their re-election campaigns. I don’t know what goes through jurors’ minds, even when I sidle up to their locked door and listen to the babble through the keyhole.

In short, I am not the world’s greatest trial lawyer. Or even the best in the Miami office building where I hang my shingle, or would, if I knew what a shingle was. I graduated in the top quarter of the bottom third of my law school class…night division. My diploma is fastened by duct tape to the bathroom wall at home. It covers a crack in the plaster above the toilet and forces me to contemplate the sorry state of the justice system a few times each day.

Jake Lassiter in Fool Me Twice
To clear his name in a murder case, Jake Lassiter follows a trail of evidence from Miami to buried treasure in an abandoned silver mine in Aspen, CO.

I went to law school after a few undistinguished years as a bench warming linebacker, earning slightly more than league minimum with the Miami Dolphins. In my first career, including my days as a semi-scholar athlete at Penn State, I had two knee operations, three shoulder separations, a broken nose and ankle, and turf toe so bad my foot was the size and color of an eggplant.

In my second career, I’ve been ridiculed by Armani-suited lawyers, jailed for contempt by ornery judges, and occasionally paid for services rendered.

I never intended to be a hero, and I succeeded.

Jake Lassiter's new adventure
Jake Lassiter tackles the college admissions scandal. (Publication Date: April 20, 2020)

On this humid June morning, I sat at the defense table, gathering my thoughts, then disposing of most of them, while my client continued to whisper unsolicited and irrelevant advice. Meanwhile, I stared at the sign above the judge’s bench: WE WHO LABOR HERE SEEK ONLY THE TRUTH.

Sure, sure, and the check’s in the mail.

Philosophers and poets may be truth seekers. Lawyers only want to win.

I have my own personal code, and you won’t find it in any books. I won’t lie to the judge, bribe a cop, or steal from a client. Other than that, it’s pretty much anything goes. Still, I draw the line on whose colors I’ll wear. I won’t represent child molesters. Yeah, I know, everybody’s entitled to a defense, and the lawyer isn’t there to assert the client’s innocence, just to force the state to meet its burden of proof. Cross-examine, put on your case, and let the chips fall where they may.

Bull!

When I defend someone, I walk in that person’s moccasins, or tasseled loafers, as the case may be. I am not just a hired gun. I lose a piece of myself and take on a piece of the client. That doesn’t mean I represent only innocent defendants. If I did, I would starve.
My first job after law school was in the Public Defender’s office, and my first customers, as I liked to call them, were folks too poor to hire lawyers with a little gray in their hair. I quickly learned that my clients’ poverty didn’t make them noble. I also got an education from my repeat customers, most of whom knew more criminal law than I did. Nearly all were guilty of something, though the state couldn’t necessarily prove it.

Jake Lassiter is a brew and burger guy in a pate and Chardonnay world.

Then I moved up – from the gutter to the curb – and these days, I represent a higher grade of dirtbag. My clients don’t pistol-whip liquor store clerks for a hundred bucks in the till. But they might sell paintings by a clever art student as undiscovered works of Salvador Dali, or ship vials of yogurt as prize bull semen, or hawk land on Machu Picchu as vacation property. All of which Blinky Baroso did, at one time or another. Sometimes twice.

“FOOL ME TWICE” is available in hardcover, paperback, audiobook, and ebook. The Lassiter books are stand-alones that may be enjoyed in any order. They are all Kindle Unlimited titles.

Jake Lassiter: More Wit, Less Wisdom

By Paul Levine

Jake Lassiter, the linebacker-turned-lawyer of 13 novels, is known for his wry wit and a propensity for being held in contempt. I’ve just finished the first book in a series featuring Lassiter and Dr. Melissa Gold, his fiancée and physician, and I’ve discovered something odd. I’ve caught myself repeating dialogue from earlier Lassiter legal thrillers. I don’t know why. Just like Jake, I deny having “drain bamage.”

In a prior blog, “Jake Lassiter: Wry Wit and Cynical Wisdom,” I mentioned some favorite lines selected by readers on Goodreads. Here are others I’ll try to avoid repeating.

One of Lassiter’s best-known lines comes from TO SPEAK FOR THE DEAD, first of the series. There’s a sign that hangs above the bench in Miami courtrooms. “We who labor here seek only the truth.”

Lassiter says there should be a footnote: “Subject to the truth being ignored by lying witnesses, obfuscated by sleazy lawyers, excluded by inept judges, and overlooked by sleeping jurors.”

How about this for a lawyer’s confession? “I lose a lot. Or plead my client guilty. It’s a dirty little secret, but that’s the deal with criminal defense lawyers, even the big names. If anyone knew our real winning percentages, they’d jump bail and flee to Argentina.”BUM DEAL

Then, there’s this pithy assessment of defending criminal cases in Miami: “Buckle your chin strap. Law is a contact sport.” LASSITER

Regrets? He’s had a few. Lassiter was a backup Miami Dolphins linebacker before going to night school and becoming a street lawyer. In his younger days, he had a bad habit of choosing inappropriate women. In FLESH & BONES, he laments: “I wish I’d been faster then, smarter now. I wish I could paint a picture or build a bridge. I wish there was one woman – just one – who had lasted. A best friend and only lover. A soulmate, not a cellmate.”

Jake Lassiter has a long history of feuding with judges. He’s been held in contempt numerous times, but as his pal Steve Solomon says, “A lawyer who’s afraid of jail is like a surgeon who’s afraid of blood.” Here’s an exchange between an exasperated judge and the obstreperous Lassiter:

“Keep it up, Mr. Lassiter, and I’ll send you to a place you’ve never been.”

“Already been to jail, Your Honor.”

“Not talking about jail! I’m gonna send you to law school.” – MORTAL SIN

Then there’s this realistic appraisal of the practice of law: “A good lawyer is part con man, part priest, promising riches if you pay the fee, damnation of you don’t.” – STATE vs. LASSITER

Coming soon: A blog with the best of Solomon’s Laws from the SOLOMON vs. LORD series: “When a woman is quiet and reflective, rather than combative and quarrelsome, watch out. She’s likely picturing the bathroom without your boxers hanging on the shower head.”KILL ALL THE LAWYERS.

Newsletter: Finally, for advance word when the first Jake Lassiter/Melissa Gold novel comes out, please sign up for my annual Newsletter. More wit and less wisdom from the lawyer who believes that “no case is impossible if your cause is just.”

My Worst Book Reviews Ever: “Author Needs a Shrink.”

worst book reviews

Stephen J. Cannell put me in my place.

About 20 years ago, I was having lunch with Steve at Bistro Garden, his favorite place in Studio City, and somewhere between the gazpacho and the cheeseburger, I boasted about a glowing book review in The Miami Herald. The legendary television writer and producer replied, “If you believe your best reviews, you gotta believe your worst ones, too.”

I didn’t want to hear it.

Worst  book reviews have to be believed, too.
Steve Cannell was responsible for “The Rockford Files,” “The A-Team,” “Wiseguy,” and a couple dozen more shows, and also became a best-selling novelist late in his career.

Sure, I have lots of newspaper clippings filled with glorious words like “riveting” and “breathlessly exciting,” but with the advent of reader reviews on Amazon, I’m also the target of some double-barreled smackdowns from folks who leave no unkind word unsaid.

Here’s the entirety of a 1-star review of BUM RAP.

“I must have been drunk when I downloaded this book.”

In my defense, I was quite sober when writing BUM RAP, which was briefly the Number One bestselling book on Amazon Kindle. But wait! That’s being defensive. I want to take Steve’s advice and listen to the criticism and learn from it. Consider this scathing remark from a female reader:

“This is nothing but rubbish written by a horny man. The story seemed decent, but the characters were unable to accomplish anything because of their animal attraction to anything that moves.”

Grrrrrr! That’s my animalistic growl. The inspiration for BUM RAP was a federal racketeering trial in Miami, known locally as the “Russian Bar Girls case.” Some of the testimony was as racy as anything in the book. Here’s a brief exchange from the transcript between the prosecutor and a Russian bar girl:

Q: Did you zip down men’s pants?

A: Yes, touch them, kiss them, anything you can think.

Q: Giving them hope that they would have sex with you?

A: All my behavior was inclining to this.

“Giving Men Hope” became a chapter title, and men’s idiotic conduct around women moved the story along, as it does in real life.

My favorite review of BUM RAP contained this curt dismissal:

“I didn’t even finish the first chapter.”

Ouch! The first chapter is exactly seven sentences long. (CLICK HERE and scroll down the page to “Read an Excerpt” to find that chapter. I hope you finish it).

Many one-star reviews make no literary judgments. Witness this short but not sweet doozy concerning FLESH & BONES:

Worst Book Reviews: Flesh & Bones

“I did not order this book.

Fair enough, but I didn’t send it to you! Then there’s this brief put-down of THE DEEP BLUE ALIBI:

“There are no hummingbirds in Germany.”

Fine. There also are no hummingbirds in THE DEEP BLUE ALIBI, which is set in the Florida Keys and was nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe award.

worst book reviews alibi
Worst Book Reviews: “The Deep Blue Alibi,” nominated for an Edgar , has 3% one-star reviews, and all of them sting.

Some readers take the time for actual literary criticism. This reader gave one star to TO SPEAK FOR THE DEAD, the first of the Jake Lassiter series:

“The book is ludicrous and with a completely unlikable so-called hero.”

Whoa, that’s my meal ticket you’re talking about! She goes on:

“I also read three of Levine’s Solomon and Lord books and they got steadily worse. I give up on this guy. He not only writes badly, I’d say he needs a shrink.”

That upset me so much, I had to tell my shrink.

Another reader of TO SPEAK FOR THE DEAD also questioned my mental state in this one-star put-down:

“Maybe 25 pages worth reading. The rest just stupid people and porn. Had me wondering if the author was a sex addict. Disgusting!”

Okay, so there are some bedroom hijinks, but “porn” is a little strong. The story is about a surgeon who’s having an affair with his patient’s wife. The patient dies suspiciously following surgery, and the surgeon and widow continue to get it on. The book is loosely based on a famous Florida murder trial that, like the bar girls’ case, had some titillating courtroom testimony.

to speak
“To Speak for the Dead” introduced Jake Lassiter, the linebacker-turned lawyer.

Am I being too thin-skinned? Should I toughen up? Every author gets slammed. There are more than 200 one-star reviews of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, including this little ditty:

“Gives little, if any, guidance on the killing of mockingbirds. False advertising.”

Okay, that may be tongue-in-cheek, but here’s an apparently serious, punctuation-free, stream-of-consciousness one-star review of the Harper Lee classic:

“It was terrible I didn’t like it at all i was so bored and stressed reading this awful book ugh”

It’s sometimes said that there are no wrong opinions, but facts are indisputable. Here’s a reader’s curt analysis of FALSE DAWN:

“One of the longest books ever.”

Hmm, the hardcover was 303 pages, about one-fourth the length of WAR AND PEACE. This reader would have given Tolstoy one star: “He should have stopped with WAR and saved PEACE for the sequel.” But maybe my book only seemed long, which means it’s my fault. Maybe I should write shorter books. Then again, when I wrote LAST CHANCE LASSITER, a 25,000 word novella, I got a blistering review under the headline:

“More like Lassiter Light.”

bum deal the final chapter

My two most recent books are BUM LUCK, which has 92% four and five star reviews, and BUM DEAL, which has 96% and garnered a starred review in Publishers Weekly. Now get this: neither has a one-star review.

But wait a second. Those books will be on Amazon long after Jake Lassiter tosses his briefcase into Biscayne Bay and long after I’m gone. So strike my earlier comment. I should have said: neither book has received a one-star review…yet. It’s only a matter of time.

# # #

“BUM DEAL” – Levine vs. Lassiter – Not the Final Chapter

Bum Deal

By Paul Levine and Jake Lassiter

Author’s Note: This is the last time I sit down with that belligerent, ungrateful wretch Jake Lassiter who owes his very existence to me. He first appeared To Speak for the Dead in 1990, and now thankfully a dozen books later, I’m bidding him goodbye in Bum Deal, in which he switches sides and prosecutes a murder trial while fighting off symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the brain disease that afflicts former football players. So, no more banging heads in the courtroom. No more trading punches and badgering me with complaints. Sayonara, pal.

UPDATE, May 11, 2020: Whoops! Lassiter takes on a new case, tackling the college admissions scandal in Cheater’s Game. I told him he wasn’t physically up to it, but did he listen?

Paul: Sit down, Jake, and take a load off.

Jake: You busting my chops about my weight, noodle neck?

Paul: What are you these days, two-fifty, two-fifty-five?

Jake: You’re the one who writes the descriptions, scribbler. I remember in MORTAL SIN, you said I looked like a young Harrison Ford.

Paul: These days, it’s more like an old Ford pickup. I shouldn’t have fed you so many burgers, poured you so many beers.

Jake: I’m as health conscious as the next guy, as long as the next guy is sitting on a bar stool. (“I’m a brew and burger guy in a paté and Chardonnay world.”)

Paul: Maybe if you’d evolved into a modern man, you’d have a longer run.

Jake: Sorry that you can’t find my mug on Instagram. And that I don’t have a life coach, an aroma therapist, or a manicurist. And I sure as hell don’t do Pilates.

Paul: Forget all that. Let’s talk about BUM DEAL.

Jake: I’ve seen the promos. What’s this, “Jake Lassiter: The Final Chapter?”

Paul: BUM DEAL is the last of the series. That’s all. (Yeah, that’s what I thought at the time! Jake didn’t ask my permission before getting involved in CHEATER’S GAME.)

Jake: That’s all! I got no life outside those pages.

Paul: Time to hang up the briefcase, just like you hung up your cleats.

Jake: I didn’t retire. The Dolphins cut me, and I went to night law school.

Paul: Same deal here. You’ve lost a step in the courtroom. Face it, you’re getting along in years.

Jake: Look who’s talking! When are you moving into the Old Writers’ Home?

Paul: Deal with it, Jake. You’ve got brain damage from all those concussions playing football. Maybe you shouldn’t have run full speed into the goalposts. Or all those helmet-to-helmet tackles back in the day.

Jake: You made me do that, you pulp fiction masochist.

Paul: You lose your train of thought. You’re more ornery than usual.

Jake: Look who’s talking, or did I already say that? So what do you expect, people are gonna buy the first twelve books just to find out what happens to me in the thirteenth? bum rap bum luck bum deal

Paul: Every book in the Lassiter series stands alone. They can be read any order.

Jake: That’s right, the LASSITER SERIES! Not the Levine series. No one gives two hoots about you. It’s me, the hard-charging defense lawyer who’s the star.

Paul: In BUM DEAL, you switch sides and prosecute.

Jake: The hell you say! I’d never do that.

Paul: See, the ink is barely dry, and you’ve already forgotten. You’re appointed to prosecute a surgeon accused of killing his wife. Only one problem, or maybe three. No witness, no evidence, and no body.

Jake: That is a bum deal! You’re setting me up to lose.

Paul: Aren’t you the guy who says, “If your cause is just, no case is impossible.” It applies to the state, too.

Jake: That’s your wordsmithery. I just say the lines you feed me.

Paul: Oh, one more thing. Your pals Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord defend the case.

Jake: Who?

Paul: The lead characters in Solomon vs. Lord. Your best pals. See what I mean about your thought processes.

Jake: I’m just messing with you, word boy. But, please not Solomon and Lord. I taught those two kids all my tricks.

Paul: Sorry, Jake. You’ll just have to dig deep and try something new. How about sticking to the rules, standing by the facts, and living with the outcome?

Jake: Why do writers always say things in series of three?

Paul: Probably because it’s pleasing to the ear, easy on the brain, and part of hard-wiring.

Jake: Hilarious, pencil pusher. Say, why would I want to prosecute, anyway? My heart is with the little guy, not the behemoth of the state.

Paul: You’re burned out. Too many guilty clients over too many years.

Jake: There’s truth in that. I lose a lot. Or plead my guy guilty. It’s a dirty little secret, but that’s the deal with most criminal defense lawyers. If anyone knew our real winning percentage, they’d cop a quick plea or jump bail.

Paul: You’ve said that before, Jake. In BUM RAP. Remember?

Jake: Not my fault you’ve got so little imagination that I repeat myself, carbon copy boy. BUM RAP. BUM LUCK. BUM DEAL. What’s the next one, BUM BOOK? bum deal turow quote

Paul: You forget already? No next book. This is it. The end. The final chapter. Finis. No más.

Jake: Jeez, you’re depressing me.

Paul: Maybe this will cheer you up. Dr. Melissa Gold, an esteemed neuropathologist, takes an interest in you, during and after office hours.

Jake: So just as I’m losing my marbles, you’re giving me a lady that lasts? Is that fair?

Paul: That’s life, pal.

Jake: I hope you get carpal tunnel in both arms, smart guy. You got any other happy news?

Paul: Bum Deal opened as the number one bestselling new legal thriller on Amazon with 98% four and five star reviews.

Jake: Sometimes, 2% of the people are right. Tell me, this, you grim storytelling reaper. Is the last scene in the book my funeral?

Paul: Would I do that to you, Jake? Really. Would I?

###

Jake Lassiter Series: Author Grills Hero Over “Bum Luck”

lassiter in kindle store

By Paul Levine

Jake Lassiter should be happy. He just won a murder trial. But here’s the opening line of “Bum Luck.”

“Thirty seconds after the jury announced its verdict, I decided to kill my client.”

So, what’s going on? I grill the linebacker-turned-lawyer below, and we trade punches…literally.

Paul: I see you’re in trouble again, Jake.

Jake: Don’t blame me. I only follow orders from you, scribbler.

Paul: That’s a cop-out, tough guy. You’ve got a mind – and a mouth – of your own.

Jake: News flash. I’m fictional. I don’t have free will.

Paul: Really? Did I tell you to try and kill Thunder Thurston, your own client?

Jake: I don’t remember. My brain’s a little fuzzy.

Paul: No wonder. How many concussions have you had?

Jake: Sure, blame the victim. You’re the one who made me run full speed into a goal post, splitting my helmet in two.

Paul: But I warned you not to get into the boxing ring with the Sugar Ray Pincher. Another concussion, and next day, you’re standing on a 20th floor balcony, threatening to push Thurston over the railing.

Paul Levine author of the Jake Lassiter series
Author of the Jake Lassiter series

Jake: Thurston killed his wife. He deserved to die.

Paul: The jury said NOT guilty. After YOU argued his case.

Jake: I’m ashamed.

Paul: Whatever happened to, “Jake Lassiter. Last bastion between freedom and forty years in a steel cage. The guy you call when you’re guilty as hell.”

Jake: Your words, pencil pusher. Not mine.

Paul: Didn’t you used to say, “They don’t call us sharks for our ability to swim?”

Jake: I’m drowning here. Can’t you see that? Because of me, a murderer went free.

Paul: Snap out of it, Jake! You were just doing your job.

Jake: YOUR job, shyster. You sent me to night law school. You made me take the Bar Exam four times. You pushed me into criminal law. I could have coached high school football in a pleasant little burg in Vermont, but no, you made me a trial lawyer.

Paul: I’ve never known you to be such a whiner.

Jake: (groans) What have you done to me? Splitting headaches. Memory loss. Confusion. Solomon and Lord think I have brain damage.

Paul: I never told you to use your helmet as a battering ram.

Jake: Once you made me a linebacker, what did you think would happen?

jake lassiter bum luck
“Thirty seconds after the jury announced its verdict, I decided to kill my client.”

Paul: (apologetically) Truth be told, Jake, I didn’t think about the future. No one knew about chronic traumatic encephalopathy back in the day.

Jake: You gave me a concussion in the game against the Jets where I made the tackle on the kickoff, recovered the fumble, and stumbled to the wrong end zone.

Paul: Sorry about that…and the fact it cost the Dolphins the game.

Jake: All these years later, the judges still call me “Wrong Way Lassiter.” Sorry doesn’t cut it, pal.

Good News for the Hero of the Jake Lassiter Series?

Paul: (brightens) There’s some good news, Jake. Dr. Melissa Gold, a neuropathologist at UCLA, is making progress with athletes suffering from C.T.E. She’s also very attractive.

Jake: So?

Paul: You’re going to meet her about halfway through “Bum Luck.”

Jake: I know that. I must have forgotten. Do she and I…you know?

Paul: No spoilers, sport.

Jake: I’m hoping she’s a keeper. It’s about time you gave me a soulmate instead of a cellmate.

Paul: Not my fault you choose women who break up with you by jumping bail and fleeing town.

Jake: C’mon, old buddy. Can’t you tell me if I kill Thunder Thurston? And if I do, whether I get away with it? And if I live or die?

Paul: The answers, old buddy, can be found in “Bum Luck.” Just shell out a few bucks. You can read, right?

Jake: Don’t push your luck, pal.

Paul: And when you’re done with that one, you might try “Bum Deal.” I’d give you a synopsis, but I doubt you’d remember it.

Jake: I oughta break all your fingers so you can never type another word.

bum deal cover
In “Bum Deal,” Lassiter switches sides and becomes a prosecutor.

Paul: Don’t even think about it. Hey, what are you doing? Ouch! Let go of me. Stop before I zexxpiejnvfpreidssridkmswsk…….

(This “interview” originally appeared in “Mystery Scene” magazine in 2017. “Bum Luck” is available in trade paperback, ebook, and audiobook formats. For more information about the Jake Lassiter series and more, visit Paul’s Amazon Author Page).

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