“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).

“BUM DEAL” – Not the Final Chapter for Jake Lassiter

bum deal turow quote

By Paul Levine

When I wrote BUM DEAL (2018), the 13th of the Jake Lassiter Series, I thought it was the final chapter. That’s right. I planned to bid farewell to my old pal Jake, the second-string linebacker who trudged through night law school and became a combative Miami trial lawyer.

Sure, it was a bit sad for me, but Jake’s been having these problems – memory lapses, confusion, headaches – and it seemed like the right time to say goodbye. Dr. Melissa Gold, a neurologist who treats Lassiter during office hours and spends humid nights with him in his Coconut Grove house, fears he may have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) as a result of all those concussions on the football field.

“The past clings to us like mud on rusty cleats,” Lassiter says, and now it takes on new meaning, given his medical condition.

But…you know where this is going. Jake said no deal to BUM DEAL being his swan song. In fact, he said he’d break all my fingers to keep me from typing “The End.” Yes, I know he’s fictional, but trust me, I heard him say it. More about this in the “Update” below.

My first work of fiction – if you don’t count my legal briefs – was TO SPEAK FOR THE DEAD, published in 1990. The book, which has sold well more than two million copies, introduced Jake Lassiter, who early on admitted, “They don’t call us sharks for our ability to swim.”

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

A dozen more Jake Lassiter novels followed, including the ingeniously titled LASSITER, in which our hero hides a shameful secret from his past, LAST CHANCE LASSITER, a prequel that reveals how getting fired from his first job as a lawyer shaped the man, and now BUM DEAL, in which Lassiter confronts his own mortality. All thirteen titles are available free to Kindle Unlimited members. Jake Lassiter lives here

In BUM LUCK (2017), Lassiter began showing symptoms consistent with a “precursor” to deadly CTE. I wrote about the issue in the blog item, “Why Does Jake Lassiter Want to Kill His Own Client?” Now, in BUM DEAL, facing an uncertain future, Jake undergoes experimental treatments for CTE, just as he makes a major change in his life, switching sides in the courtroom and prosecuting a surgeon accused of killing his wife. It’s a nearly impossible case with no forensic evidence, no witness, and no body. Complicating matters are Jake’s best friends-turned-antagonists, lawyers Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord, who defend the surgeon.

Drained of his mental edge just when he needs it most, my old courtroom warrior faces the possibility of losing the case and incurring even greater brain damage when he should be seeking treatment.

bum deal cover
No witness? No evidence? No body? Big problem for new prosecutor Jake Lassiter

So…does Jake Lassiter win or lose the trial? And what’s his condition in when the jury returns its verdict? Hey, don’t ask! I’m keeping my trap shut, relying on attorney-client privilege, the Fifth Amendment, and my desire for you to enjoy the tale. But I will say this. It’s not Lassiter’s final chapter. cheater's game

UPDATE: Jake Lassiter returns to tackle the true-to-life college admissions scandal in CHEATER’S GAME (2020). I’ll have more to say about that book soon.

Meanwhile, BUM DEAL is available in ebook, paperback and audio editions at Amazon and in paperback at Barnes & Noble and Indiebound.

PRAISE FOR “BUM DEAL

“Any book with Jake Lassiter is a drop-everything, read-it-now for me – and this one has Solomon & Lord, too. BUM DEAL is fantastic.” – Lee Child, #1 Bestselling Author of the “Jack Reacher” series

“’Bum Deal’ is the real deal. Jake Lassiter at his smart-talking, fast-thinking best. A funny, compelling and canny courtroom thriller, seasoned with a little melancholy and a lot of inside knowledge.” — Scott Turow, #1 New York Times bestselling author

“Fascinating, fully developed characters and smart, well-paced dialogue keep the pages turning. Levine manipulates the expectations of the reader as skillfully as Jake manipulates the expectations of the jury” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Full to the brim with the humor, courtroom brilliance and subtle pathos that have made Levine’s other novels winners.” – Bookreporter

“A terrific setup, razor-sharp repartee, and enough plot reversal to make your head swim like an afternoon daiquiri, Bum Deal is vintage Paul Levine: entertaining and exceedingly smart.” —Andrew Gross, #1 New York Times bestselling author

“Jake Lassiter is up against his greatest challenge—an incurable, brain-wasting disease that threatens to rob him of his brilliant, legal mind when he needs it the most. It’s an astonishing, bittersweet, and daring gamble, but those are the qualities that have always set Levine and Lassiter apart from the pack.” — Lee Goldberg, #1 New York Times bestselling author

Writing Tips — Put Your Butt in the Chair

Paul Levine author of the Jake Lassiter series

Novelist Paul Levine has some writing tips. Why is “write what you know” bad advice? What does Stephen King say about rewriting? How does Paul find so much humor in court? And why does he pay homage to John D. MacDonald?

Q: Paul, you frequently speak to aspiring authors. Any writing tips you want to share?

A: Read! If you’re still in school, study history and literature and the social sciences. Everyone should read newspaper every day. Not just blogs and social media. And read both fiction and non-fiction.

Q: And when you’re ready to write?

A: Put your butt in the chair and keep it there. Write! Don’t dream about writing. Don’t talk about writing. Just write.

Q: Do you do a lot of re-writing or are you a first draft kind of guy?

A: Someone said all writing is rewriting. I do at least a dozen drafts. Sometimes way more.

Q: Do you recommend any books with writing tips?

stephen king writing tips
Writing Tips: Read Stephen King’s “On Writing”

A: Stephen King’s “On Writing.” King says your first draft is where you tell yourself the story. Then, when you rewrite, you take out all the junk that doesn’t belong in the story. Good advice.

Q: You write legal thrillers, but your lawyer-protagonists, Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord in one series, Jake Lassiter in another, don’t spend that much time in court. Why is that?

A: Where would you rather be, in a stuffy courtroom, or on a beach in Key West?

Q: Which brings us to “The Deep Blue Alibi.” In the opening scene, a yacht crashes onto a beach, one man has a spear in his chest, the other is a shady real estate developer. Solomon and Lord have a tough murder trial to defend, but they seem to argue as much with each other as with the prosecutor.

A: I used to be a trial lawyer. My wife, Marcia Silvers, is a criminal defense lawyer, and we frequently banter about cases. Hopefully, the scenes I write are as funny as the ones I live.

Q: Is it true that you based “Bum Rap,” your most recent novel, on a criminal case your wife handled?

A: Yes, the Miami Beach bar girls trial. Marcia keeps asking for royalties.

Q: So Solomon and Lord are Paul and Marcia, not Tracy and Hepburn?

A: It’s a classic genre. Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew.” Cole Porter’s “Kiss Me Kate.” Hammett’s “The Thin Man.” TV’s “Moonlighting.” Two people love each other, but they also love to argue.

Q: Harlan Coben described your books as: “Carl Hiaasen meets John Grisham in the court of last retort.” Fair assessment?

A: I’ve long said Harlan is a genius. Yes, I bring humor to the legal system because I see so much that’s absolutely nutty there.

writing tips homage
Writing Tips: Author Pays Homage to John D. MacDonald

Q: In “The Deep Blue Alibi,” there’s a chapter at a Florida nudist resort. Is it fair to ask how you researched the scene?

A: Like Tom Cruise, I do my own stunts.

Q: Is the title of the book an homage John D. MacDonald’s “The Deep Blue Good-By?”

A: “Homage?” That’s French for “cheese”, isn’t it?

Q: Now, you’re being facetious.

A: That’s what they pay me for. “The Deep Blue Good-By” was the first of MacDonald’s Travis McGee series. His writing deeply influenced me. You want more writing tips for thrillers? Read JDM’s “The End of the Night.”

Q: You and MacDonald are both Florida writers. Did you ever meet?

A: He passed away four years before my first novel, “To Speak for the Dead,” was published in 1990. But one of my first fan letters was from Maynard MacDonald, John’s son.

jdm writing tips
Writing Tips: Read John D. MacDonald

Q: Why do the judges in your books all seem a little wacky and the lawyers crooked, or at least somewhat flexible in their ethics?

A: Even though the “Jake Lassiter” series and “Solomon vs. Lord” series are fiction, real events and real people inspire the work. I practiced law in front of curmudgeonly judges, and I knew lawyers who could shake your hand and pick your pocket at the same time.

Q: You wrote 20 episodes of the CBS show “JAG.” and co-created the Supreme Court show “First Monday.” Any writing tips when working for television or features?

A: The great difficulty in writing for network television is the time constraint. Forty-three minutes to tell a main story and a B-story. You have to “write tight” and use the visual aspect of the medium.

Q: Any writing tips for those who want to break into Hollywood?

A: Marry a blood relative of Les Moonves or J.J. Abrams.

Q: Lacking that, when aspiring screenwriters sit down at the computer, what should they be writing?

A: Ransom notes, maybe. Look, it’s really hard to break into the business. Some people suggest writing a spec script. Be advised, though, how difficult it is to sell a script. Long ago, Elmore Leonard said, “Writing a script and sending it to Hollywood is like drawing a picture of a car and sending it to Detroit.”

Q: Any final writing tips?

A: Some people say to “write what you know.” But what you know is probably boring. You can always research something new. You can always travel to a new place. My advice is to “write what you love.” Because if you don’t love it, no one else will.

Carl Hiaasen Tricked Me Into a New Career

Carl Hiaasen novel

By Paul Levine

I blame Carl Hiaasen.

Let me explain.

It was 1986. I was a partner in the Miami office of a mammoth law firm with offices from Philadelphia to Tokyo. I specialized in “complex civil litigation.” Upside: Financial security. Downside: Boring work.

Even worse than the daily tedium, I’d abandoned my true self. Exhibit A: In college during Vietnam, I protested against Dow Chemical, manufacturer of napalm. Now, the law firm put me in charge of all asbestos cases. Defending the manufacturer, a company with a nasty habit of hiding evidence.

I was a wreck, filled with self-loathing. Then I read Hiaasen’s “Tourist Season.” In his first solo novel, Hiaasen told a hilarious story with powerful underlying themes about greed, the environment, and the destruction of Florida.

Carl Hiaasen and Tourist Season
“Tourist Season” by Carl Hiaasen Changed My Life

I knew Hiaasen’s work from his Miami Herald column where he roasted public officials for their idiotic behavior. And now this! A satiric, darkly comedic novel in which a deranged newspaper columnist kills tourists in bizarre ways in order to stem runaway population growth and the and condo-ization of Florida. (Actually, I doubt that Hiaasen considered the columnist deranged. Heroic, maybe.)

I loved “Tourist Season” and decided I wanted to write novels. What gave me the confidence to even try?

Because Carl Hiaasen made it look so damn easy!

The pages flowed as naturally as a mountain stream over polished rocks. You never saw the puppeteer’s wires maneuvering the characters. You never heard the writer’s keyboard clacking behind the dialogue. I was reminded of Spencer Tracy’s line: “Never let them catch you acting.” Carl Hiaasen never let you catch him writing.

So, I said, “I can do that.” After all, I was an expert at complex litigation. How hard could it be to tell a simple story? Obviously, I knew nothing of three-act structure, point-of-view, plotting, plot twists, and dialogue. I’d never taken a writing course or de-constructed a novel to see how the magic came to be.

Thankfully, I had read a bit.

Chandler, Hammett, and MacDonald

Raymond Chandler knocked me sideways with his hard-boiled wordplay. “Neither of the two people in the room paid any attention to the way I came in, although only one of them was dead.”

Dashiell Hammett’s dialogue taught me about sturdy protagonists: “When a man’s partner is killed, he’s supposed to do something about it.”

And John D. MacDonald showed that a protagonist can be flawed: “There are no hundred percent heroes.”

Soon, I discovered that Hiaasen had tricked me. It wasn’t easy!

Still, in 1988, two years after reading “Tourist Season,” I sold my first novel, “To Speak for the Dead,” which introduced Jake Lassiter, a linebacker-turned-lawyer with a hard bark and a tender heart. Lassiter owes a debt to Chandler, Hammett, MacDonald…and Hiaasen.

I Quit the Law; Carl Hiaasen is to Blame!

I resigned my law firm partnership. No more long lunches of rare tenderloin and stone crabs at the Banker’s Club. I was a full-time writer. Except for a detour to Hollywood to write for CBS, I’ve made my life as a novelist ever since.

Carl Hiaasen 2015
Paul Levine and Carl Hiaasen, 2015

I’ve lived through the giddy days of sizable hardcover runs and dandy foreign deals, then the consolidation and shrinkage of mainstream publishing. I’ve written books on spec that didn’t sell and suffered the sleepless nights that accompany fear of failure. Then came electronic publishing and the miraculous resurrection of my long out-of-print work, including “To Speak for the Dead.” This month marks the 25th anniversary of the book’s hardcover publication. Amazingly, “…Dead” has been one of the top five bestselling legal thrillers all summer, at one point hitting number two in the Amazon Kindle Store, behind only my latest, “Bum Rap.”

There Should Be a Pulitzer Prize for Titles

I still read Carl Hiaasen. Even his titles make me smile. “Bad Monkey.” “Sick Puppy.” “Strip Tease.” “Skinny Dip.”

Skinny Dip by Carl Hiaasen
“Skinny Dip” by Carl Hiaasen

I continue to hone my craft. I take my time, paring down my chapters, my paragraphs, my sentences, producing a book every two years. That’s right, Carl Hiaasen. I’m still slogging away, working hard to make it look easy. And I don’t miss those Banker’s Club lunches. But just the same, you tricked me…into a career I love.

Paul Levine

“Bum Rap” is available in trade paperback, ebook and audio.

(This originally appeared in “The Third Degree,” a publication of the Mystery Writers of America).