BUM DEAL

“They don’t call us sharks for our ability to swim.” —Jake Lassiter

Second-string linebacker turned disillusioned defense attorney Jake Lassiter finally switches teams. Appointed special prosecutor in a high-profile murder case, he vows to take down a prominent surgeon accused of killing his wife. There’s just one problem…or maybe three: no evidence, no witness, and no body.

But Lassiter’s used to fighting impossible battles on the gridiron and in court. After all, he’s not totally burned-out—just a little scorched.

Standing in Lassiter’s way are the defense lawyers: slick-talking Steve Solomon and blueblood Victoria Lord, who would love to beat their old mentor in court. Not to mention the specter of CTE, the lethal brain disease Lassiter may have contracted banging heads in the NFL. Drained of his mental edge just when he needs it most, Lassiter faces the possibility of losing the case—and his life—in court.

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)

“The ending is perfect: a nudge in the ribs that doesn’t sell out the novel’s sinister edge. This is a triumph of mood and tone as well as plotting.” —Booklist

“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

“Jake Lassiter for the prosecution? What will Paul Levine think of next? How about a brilliant doctor who just happens to be a murderous psychopath? How about Solomon & Lord for the defense? How about the jackhammer headaches that may have scrambled his brain once too often? It’s all there as Levine connects the funny bone to the heart in the pulse-pounding Bum Deal.” —John Schulian, PEN/ESPN Lifetime Achievement Award winner

Four Novels That Led Me To Jake Lassiter

bum deal feature image

By Paul Levine

More than 30 years ago, unhappy with my job as a lawyer, I read four books that changed my life. No, they weren’t self-help books. They didn’t advise me to take up meditation or yoga or psychedelic drugs. They were novels with flawed protagonists.

I’ll tell you about them in a moment, but first, let me set the scene. It’s 1987, and the senior partners at my law firm thought they were giving me a promotion. “Paul, we’re putting you in charge of all the asbestos cases east of the Mississippi.”

I was speechless, and not with joy, despite a substantial increase in income. My job would be defending a major manufacturer of asbestos, the deadly substance whose dangers had been illegally kept secret by the industry for decades. Flash back to my days at Penn State where I protested against Dow Chemical, manufaturer of napalm, then being used against civilians in Vietnam. No, I would not be an asbestos lawyer. The job would be soul-crushing, the equivalent of shoveling coal into the fires of hell.

So I quit.

Resigned my partnership.

Decided to write a book.

Yeah, that’s right. I gave up a secure, probably lifetime job to become a freelance writer. I had no safety net and two children to put through college. This is not the sort of advice you get from career counselors.

Now, about those four books. It’s astonishing that three were published just months before I sat down to write. They’re Scott Turow’s “Presumed Innocent,” Carl Hiaasen’s “Tourist Season” and Tom Wolfe’s “The Bonfire of the Vanities.” Presumed Innocent

“Presumed Innocent” is a literary legal thriller structured as an old-fashioned mystery. Prosecutor Rusty Sabich goes on trial for the murder of his female colleague…and mistress. Flawlessly constructed and elegantly written, the story also has a final twist that left most readers, me included, breathless. It’s now considered one of the classics of crime fiction.

I was impressed that “Presumed Innocent” was Turow’s first novel. (I’m not counting “One-L,” a fictionalized journal of the author’s first year at Harvard Law School. It’s still in print and recommended reading for anyone contemplating the rigors (and mortis) of law school. It says something about legal education that a book written 43 years ago is still relevant!

Turow did something very smart. Notwithstanding the commercial and critical success of “Presumed Innocent,” he did not stop practicing law. Handling many pro bono matters, including death penalty cases, Turow performed a great public service while doubtless latching onto ideas for later novels. tourist season

Just as I finished reading “Presumed Innocent,” I came across the newly published “Tourist Season.” I knew Hiaasen’s work from The Miami Herald, where his columns roasted public officials for their idiotic and often criminal behavior. (I had a short, unspectacular career as a Herald reporter before starting law school). “Tourist Season” is a satiric, darkly comedic novel in which a deranged newspaper columnist kills tourists in bizarre ways in order to stem runaway population growth and destruction of the environment in Florida. (Actually, I doubt that Hiaasen considered the columnist deranged. More likely, heroic). bonfire

Then came “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” a social satire about ambition, greed, race, and class. It also has a delightfully flawed main character, bond trader Sherman McCoy, and several uproarious courtroom scenes. I learned from Wolfe and British author John Mortimer (“Rumpole of the Bailey”) that criminal trials can be laced with humor.

Around the same time, I read the fourth book, “The Deep Blue Good-by”, by John D. MacDonald, patron saint of Florida crime novelists. The 1964 book introduced the world to Travis McGee, the self-described “beach bum, big chopped-up, loose-jointed, pale-eyed, wire-haired, walnut-hided rebel…unregimented, unprogrammed, unimpressed.” deep blue

MacDonald’s “knight errant” is a man of honor, protector of the weak, nemesis of the corrupt. In “The Deep Blue Good-By,” McGee, a sort of unlicensed P.I. living on a houseboat, takes on the vicious Junior Allen, who abuses women and steals from them. McGee is not perfect. He can lose a fight and lose his way, though never straying far from his moral center.

My novel, “The Deep Blue Alibi,” nominated for an Edgar award, was intended as a tribute to the first of the McGee books. (I previously wrote about JDM on the 100th anniversary of his birth in “John D. MacDonald and Me”).

With those four very different novels residing somewhere in my subconscious, I sat down to write. Without knowing exactly what I was doing, I blended Turow’s courtroom acumen with Hiaasen’s irreverence, and Wolfe’s humor, and gave those qualities to a man reminiscent of MacDonald’s knight errant. The result: Former pro linebacker turned Miami lawyer Jake Lassiter, who sometimes walks so close to the ethical line, his shadow falls into no-man’s-land. to speak

In “To Speak for the Dead,” the 1990 debut novel that is still in print, Lassiter begins to believe that his surgeon client is innocent of malpractice…but guilty of murder. In addition to the usual discovery procedures, he robs a grave to get evidence. In the fourteenth of the series, “Cheater’s Game,” published this month, Lassiter tackles the true-to-life college admissions scandal where he seeks the forbidden fruit of “jury nullification.”

Lassiter’s continuing quest can be concisely stated:

True justice is nearly impossible to achieve.
But it’s damn sure worth pursuing.
And rough justice is better than none.

Then, there’s this. “If your cause is just, no case is impossible.”

I’d add that dubious means are sometimes employed to achieve justice. Or as MacDonald wrote in a later Travis McGee novel: “There are no one hundred percent heroes.”

(A version of this post appeared in Criminal Element).

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.

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“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.

# # #

LASSITER

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

Praise

“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