A dark secret in Jake Lassiter’s past returns to haunt him in this tale of mystery, rough justice and revenge.
In Lassiter, the linebacker-turned-lawyer is on a mission to solve the mystery of Krista, a runaway teen porn star who went missing 18 years earlier…right after his one-night stand with her. Her sister Amy accuses Jake of involvement in Krista’s disappearance – but how much does Jake really know? More than he’s saying. Just what’s he hiding anyway?
The Mystery of the Missing Girl
Seeking to atone for his own past, Lassiter sets off on the cold trail to solve the mystery of the missing Krista and confronts some of the powerful men who knew her. With the evidence pointing to distant memories of a night of kinky sex, designer drugs and a possible murder, Lassiter is on the point of nailing the truth when Amy is charged with murder.
It’s been 14 years since we last met Jake Lassiter in Flesh & Bones, but he’s back with a vengeance in this gripping mystery and legal thriller. It’s now up to Jake to wade through years of deceit and corruption to find out whether Amy really shot the murder victim and what really happened to Krista – and the answers to the mystery reveal that rough justice is better than no justice at all.
Renowned mystery reviewer Oline Cogdill, a Raven Award winner, put it this way: “It’s as if this wise-cracking, renegade lawyer never left. Lassiter works as a gripping legal thriller, a story of self-discovery, and a look at corruption set against an insider’s evocative view of South Florida…Levine’s energetic storytelling works well as the author manages to make his novel serious, witty and sardonic.” (Complete review here).
Read what others have said about Lassiter…
“Since Robert Parker is no longer with us, I’m nominating Levine for an award as best writer of dialogue in the grit-lit genre.” – San Jose Mercury News
“Lassiter is back after 14 long years – and better than ever. Moving fast, cracking wise, butting heads, he’s the lawyer we all want on our side – and on the page.” – Lee Child
“A gripping legal thriller, story of self-discovery and a look at corruption against an insider’s evocative view of South Florida. Levine’s energetic storytelling manages to make his novel serious, witty, and sardonic.” – Miami Herald
“Engaging…a standout job.” – Publishers Weekly
“While it’s been 14 years since the last ‘Lassiter’ novel, Levine, the author of the excellent Solomon/Lord series, definitely hasn’t lost his touch.” – Lansing State Journal
“Few writers can deliver tales about sex and drugs in South Florida better than Levine.” – Booklist
“For Don Russo (1946-2014) football player, rugby player, trial lawyer, friend.” — Dedication of “Bum Luck”
In September 1970, on the first day of my first year of law school, while waiting to have my photo I.D. taken, I struck up a conversation with another student, Don Russo. Both Don and I loved college football. As a sports writer, I had written about football. But Don had played. At the University of Miami, he’d been a small, speedy, fearless wide receiver. Going over the middle, he’d been knocked around like a pinball by linebackers 50 pounds heavier. In those days, concussions weren’t taken that seriously by coaches, trainers, or doctors. A player got his “bell rung.” If he still knew his name and could count to three, he could play, concussions be damned.
Don had short stints with the San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins, but after realizing there were faster, larger wide receivers at that level, he settled into the practice of law. Over the next quarter-century, Don became one of the top plaintiffs’ personal injury and toxic tort lawyers in Florida. He also played rugby on an international level where it is simply not possible to compete without suffering head injuries, including concussions. Compete he did, fiercely and fearlessly.
Don was already showing early symptoms of the disease that would claim his life when the photo above was taken in 2011. The occasion was my appearance at Books & Books in Coral Gables for the launch of “Lassiter.”
That’s Don on the left and famed trial lawyer Stuart Grossman on the right. We had all been friends since law school 40 years earlier. Don also attended my first book signing in 1990 for “To Speak for the Dead,” as shown below. Yes, we were both much younger.
The end came slowly and painfully for Don, his family and friends. Frontal lobe dementia and A.L.S. with symptoms consistent with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, caused by repeated concussions. He died three years ago last month. It was then I decided that Jake Lassiter would have his own encounter with brain injury and potential C.T.E. in my new novel “Bum Luck.” After all, he’d suffered a series of concussions going back to high school in the Florida Keys, through his playing days at Penn State, and on the aptly named suicide squads with the Miami Dolphins. How does Lassiter’s potential brain damage manifest itself. How about the first sentence of the novel?
Thirty seconds after the jury announced its verdict, I decided to kill my client.
By now, most readers are aware of the work of Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist who established the link between football head injuries and the fatal disease. You may have seen the movie “Concussion” in which Will Smith stars as Dr. Omalu and runs into the stone wall of deniers at the N.F.L.
The casualty list of former players with C.T.E. reads like an All-Pro team. In fact, on one restless night in “Bum Luck,” Lassiter has a nightmare inspired by his own fears of brain damage:
I dreamed of a football game played by dead men.
Not zombies. Nothing so weird.
The men were very much alive in the game. Young and strong and fast. In their prime, but even my somnolent brain knew they were dead now.
A fine mist covered the field, so it was difficult to make out the stadium, but it seemed to be the Orange Bowl, as long gone as the players. Earl Morrall, with his crew cut and square jaw, wearing a vintage Dolphins’ jersey, lofted a perfect pass to Frank Gifford, the golden boy, in a Giants’ uniform. Gifford juked past Dave Duerson, in Bears’ blue and orange, and sailed into the end zone, untouched. My sleeping mind mashed it all up, not caring about team rosters or eras. An all-star dream team all linked by brain damage caused by C.T.E.
In Lassiter’s fictional world, Dr. Melissa Gold, a neuropathologist, will try experimental treatments actually being used in the real world. As you may have read, in post-mortem tests of brain tissues, 90 of 94 former professional football players who had shown symptoms of dementia were revealed to have, in fact, suffered from C.T.E. resulting from repetitive concussions. Just last month, two living former NFL stars – Gale Sayers and Dwight Clark – were revealed to be suffering from symptoms consistent with C.T.E. (The gruesome fact is that a positive diagnosis can only be made post-mortem).
The more I researched, the more angry I became at the NFL for its shameful conduct in lying about the connection between football concussions and dementia. And when I get angry, so does Jake Lassiter. He always relishes a challenge. This time, I gave him one that might be too tough, even for the ex-linebacker with the hard bark and tender heart.
Let’s hope he makes it through the gathering fog of this dark night.
Jake Lassiter has been in scrapes before. I’ve put the linebacker-turned-lawyer into lots of ethical, moral and physical jams.
Lassiter has had an affair with a woman while defending her gangster husband in court in MORTAL SIN.
He’s been charged with murder for allegedly killing his banker/girlfriend who was about to report him for stealing client funds in STATE vs. LASSITER.
Doing his own legwork defending his pal Steve Solomon in a murder case, he gets stomped by Russian mobsters in BUM RAP.
Poor Jake Lassiter
I sometimes feel guilty for handing Lassiter such a rough life. In a dozen legal thrillers, he has flirted with disbarment, death…and dangerous dames. But now…oh now, he faces his greatest opponent yet: himself.
“Thirty seconds after the jury returned its verdict, I decided to kill my client.”
That’s the opening line of BUM LUCK. Jake Lassiter has just WON a murder trial, successfully defending Miami Dolphins’ superstar Thunder Thurston, charged with killing his wife. Problem is, Lassiter believes his client is guilty and vows to do something about it. Rough justice. Vigilante justice.
Lassiter’s pals Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord are stunned. “You must have played football too long without a helmet,” Solomon says, not realizing the nugget of truth embedded in the wisecrack.
Lassiter begins to suffer crippling headaches and memory loss. He’s even more irritable than usual. And his plan to kill his own client rattles family and friends. His bizarre behavior extends to his law practice. The State Attorney believes Lassiter bribed a juror in the Thurston murder trial. His denial – claiming he wanted to lose the case – gets him nowhere. A grand jury plans to indict Lassiter for bribery, even as he plots to kill his client.
Jake Lassiter Defends Satan: an Insurance Company
Lassiter’s life gets even messier when he’s forced to represent an insurance company that refuses to pay the orphaned children of a deceased martial arts fighter. “Defending insurance companies is like fiddling with the thermostat in hell,” he complains.
In the course of the civil case, Jake Lassiter crosses paths with Dr. Melissa Gold, a neurologist with a specialty in Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (C.T.E.) It’s the fatal brain disease afflicting retired N.F.L. players. Long-time readers will recall that Lassiter suffered numerous concussions as a football player, including one play in which he made the tackle, recovered a fumble, got turned around, and ran to wrong end zone. That earned him the unfortunate nickname “Wrong Way Lassiter,” something that followed him from gridiron to courtroom.
So, yes, I’ve placed my hero on a shaky tree limb and I’m tossing rocks at him. Will he fall or make his way safely to terra firma?
– Will Lassiter kill Thunder Thurston…or be killed?
– Does Lassiter suffer from C.T.E.?
– Will he lose his practice…and his life?
When pre-publication news leaked out about the plot, some readers wrote me, pleading not to kill Lassiter. “Are you insane?” one asked. “Why would you kill your meal ticket and my guilty pleasure?”
Well, it’s not as if I’d be the first author to knock off a main character. I suppose Brutus could have only wounded Julius Caesar, but that’s not the way it played out. Not to mention Hamlet, Macbeth, and BOTH Romeo and Juliet.
But no spoilers here. I’m rooting for Lassiter to make it out of this jam and hope you are, too.
For more info and to read an excerpt, please check out this site’s BUM LUCK PAGE.
BUM LUCK is available in ebook, paperback, and audio formats from Amazon. Or, if you prefer, here are the links to order trade paperbacks from Barnes & Noble and Indiebound.
That’s right. I lusted after cheap meds, not fame and fortune, when I migrated from Miami to Hollywood 17 years ago. And why not? A doctor’s visit costs ten bucks at the industry-subsidized Bob Hope Health Center. I quickly learned, however, that writers pay their dues in many other ways. Even mystery writers.
Before I traveled west, I thought Hollywood writers rolled into work around 11 a.m., scribbled for a couple hours, drank their lunch at Musso and Frank’s, then cracked wise with starlets the rest of the day. Like Bogart, who came to Casablanca for the waters, I was misinformed.
I quickly learned that television scribes are skilled craftsmen who work damn hard, sometimes all night while cameras roll. The writing itself is tougher than it looks. One-hour dramas employ the same three-act structure as plays and novels. Yes, it’s still the dramatic form advocated by Aristotle. Act one is exposition; act two is complication; and act three is resolution.
HOLLYWOOD PRODUCER: “Aristotle said that? Get me his agent.”
An overriding factor in television writing is the restraint of time. Want to craft a one-hour drama? After commercials, you’ve got 43 minutes to tell your tale. Stream-of-consciousness writers need not apply. Mystery writers who are strong on structure fare better.
I came west in 1999, sneaking into TV at such an advanced age that the Christian Science Monitor dubbed me the “oldest rookie writer in Hollywood.” I had already been a newspaper reporter, a trial lawyer, and a novelist, so I have a track record of either taking on new challenges or being unable to hold a job, depending on your point of view.
I began doubting the sanity of this latest move my first day on the Paramount Pictures lot. My dungeon of an office in the Clara Bow Building overlooked a dumpster behind the commissary, and my window air conditioner whined like an F-14 taking off from an aircraft carrier.
Mystery Writers Are Their Own Bosses. TV Writers Not So Much.
Years earlier, as a lawyer, I enjoyed a view of Bimini from the penthouse of a high rise on Miami’s Biscayne Bay and lunched on stone crabs and passion fruit iced tea at the Bankers’ Club. Later, as my own boss, I wrote eight novels at home in Coconut Grove, parrots squawking in a bottlebrush tree outside. Now, with kamikaze horseflies from the dumpster smashing into my window, I was low man on a staff of six writers. As well I should have been. When I got to Hollywood, I didn’t know a smash cut from a cold cut. How did I get here, anyway?
I’d been bitten by the Hollywood bug in 1995 when the late Stephen J. Cannell produced an NBC movie-of-the-week that was adapted from my first novel. I began dabbling in Hollywood long-distance. I wrote an action-adventure feature for Cannell’s company. Think Die Hard in a missile silo. I wrote the first draft of The A-Team feature screenplay that likewise went nowhere. I penned a computer hacker pilot for ABC. Five similar pilots were commissioned by the networks that season; none got on the air. I wrote a miniseries for CBS, which also was never produced. I was beginning to learn of a world where writers were unionized and got paid even though their work was shelved — literally — stacked on shelves with hundreds of other dusty scripts.
I also free-lanced two episodes of JAG, the CBS military drama. When they aired, I had the novel sensation of listening to actors read my words aloud.
Mystery Writers Wondered if I’d Sold Out.
Then Don Bellisario, the creator of JAG, offered me a staff position. I considered the alternatives. Stay in Miami with the mosquitoes and no book deal. Or go to L.A. and get a paycheck plus that free health insurance. Goodbye mosquitoes. Hello coyotes. (The four-legged scavengers, not Hollywood agents.) My friends among the mystery writers watched from afar with alarm. Had I sold out? Would I be eaten alive?
I ended up writing 20 episodes of JAG and also co-created with Bellisario First Monday, a drama set at the Supreme Court. The show, which was based loosely on my novel 9 Scorpions , this year was named one of the “ten great Supreme Court novels” by the American Bar Association Journal. It is now available as an ebook, retitled Impact. First Monday gave me the opportunity to work with James Garner, Joe Mantegna, and Charles Durning, three terrific actors. In fact, the entire cast was fine. But we, the producers and writers, failed when we tried to jazz up the stories.
In reality, most of the drama at the Supreme Court takes place in the Justices’ minds and is difficult to dramatize. Still, we might have been a hit, if not for our dead-on-arrival demographics: most of our viewers were between Medicare and the mortuary. After 13 episodes, we were buried in the slag heap of cancelled shows.
So was the Hollywood experience all bad? As the junior officers frequently said to the admiral on JAG: “Permission to speak freely, Sir?”
Actually, there were many satisfying moments. While TV writers remain anonymous outside the industry, an actor’s compliment on a script or several warm and fuzzy e-mails from viewers mean that someone has noticed your work. The very speed of the process — weeks, not years — from page to screen, makes the medium more intense and immediate than publishing. Then there’s the knowledge that 15 to 20 million people are paying various degrees of attention to a story you created out of a thin air. (Moments later, of course, your story vanishes into thin air).
Something else, too, something I never anticipated. Writing for TV sharpened my prose skills. I believe my writing is leaner, my plotting tighter, my dialogue zippier. And let’s not forget those regular paychecks plus pension and health benefits.
I have returned to the excruciating yet exhilarating task of storytelling with only the written word. Since Hollywood learned it could exist without my services, I’ve published four courtroom capers in the Solomon vs. Lord series. One of the books, The Deep Blue Alibi, was nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe award. I’ve written three more novels in the Jake Lassiter series. Last year, I brought Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord together with Jake Lassiter in Bum Rap, which was briefly the number one bestseller in the Amazon Kindle store. In June 2017, Bum Luck, the second in that new series, will be published by Thomas & Mercer.
There’s even renewed interest in Hollywood in Lassiter as a television series. No, I’m not interested in writing the show. I’ve got my health insurance — and my sanity — and intend to keep both.
Hard-boiled dialogue…the literary equivalent of a quick punch to the gut.
“It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window.”
“Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.”
Those hard-boiled lines come from the mind of tough-guy P.I. Philip Marlowe, which is to say from author Raymond Chandler. You’ll find the first one in Farewell My Lovely and the second in The Big Sleep, classics of the noir genre.
Many consider Chandler to be one of the founders of “hard-boiled crime fiction” featuring the weathered, world-weary and cynical private eye. However…
Hard-Boiled Can Be Humorous, Too
Hard-boiled dialogue is certainly an element of tough-guy crime fiction. But a line can be hard-boiled and humorous, too. In Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious, the villains are Nazi spies, so it’s a serious drama…but with humorous interludes. Here’s an exchange between Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman:
“Don’t you need a coat?” Grant asks.
“You’ll do,” Bergman replies.
Hard-Boiled? Tough Bark with a Tender Heart
All this came to mind when a reader told me that a baker’s dozen of hard-boiled quotes from my Jake Lassiter and Solomon vs. Lord books are posted on Goodreads, one of the most entertaining and informative readers’ websites.
Often Lassiter is equal parts sly and hard-boiled. The ex-second-string NFL linebacker turned renegade lawyer has a tough bark but a tender heart. Still, he shares some rueful cynicism with earlier heroes of crime fiction, and he does dispense hard-bitten lines.
“I’m a brew and burger guy in a paté and Chardonnay world. I’m as health conscious as the next guy, as long as the next guy is sitting on a bar stool.” – FALSE DAWN
“I stood there, 230 pounds of ex-football player, ex-public defender, ex-a-lot-of-things, leaning against the faded walnut rail of the witness stand, home to a million sweaty palms.” – TO SPEAK FOR THE DEAD
“A good lawyer is part con man, part priest…promising riches if you pay the fee, damnation if you don’t.” – STATE vs. LASSITER
Old Heraclitus Had it Right: “Character is Destiny”
Heraclitus wrote that “character is destiny,” which is a pretty nifty line. If he hadn’t died 2,500 years ago, he could probably get a job writing for NCIS. I’d add this corollary to Herac’s three words of wisdom: “Dialogue reveals character.” I’ve long believed that it’s better to reveal your protagonist’s character traits through his or her own voice, rather than clunky narration. I call these unspoken thoughts “internal dialogue.” Wikipedia uses the phrase “self-talk.”
From the quotes above, you might already have a feel for Jake Lassiter, even if you’ve never read any of the ten books in the series. He’s the guy they call “Last Chance Lassiter,” because he takes on impossible cases no other lawyer will touch. On the other hand, sometimes he turns down a case:
“I could have used the work, but I prefer cases I believe in. Best is to have a client you like, a cause that’s just and a check that doesn’t bounce. Two out of three and you’re ahead of the game.” – FLESH AND BONES
While defending a murder trial:
“At the prosecution table, Flagler gave me his Ivy League snicker. If I wanted, I could dangle him out the courtroom window by his ankles. But then, I was picking up penalties for late hits while he was singing tenor with the Whiffenpoofs at Yale. I’m proud of my night school diploma. Top half of the bottom third of my class.” – LASSITER
And finally from Lassiter, on the practice of law:
“We eat what we kill. Hey, they don’t call us sharks for our ability to swim.” – FOOL ME TWICE
But let’s close with a Raymond Chandler classic from the short story Red Wind:
“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks.”