Levine Grills Lassiter about Lori Loughlin and “Cheater’s Game”


Jake Lassiter, the linebacker-turned-lawyer, first appeared in “To Speak for the Dead” in 1990. Thirty years later, Lassiter is still navigating the shark-infested waters of the justice system. In “Cheater’s Game,” the heartbroken lawyer must defend his brilliant nephew Kip who’s charged as an imposter, taking entrance exams for students in the true-to-life college admissions scandal.

Paul: Earlier today, actress Lori Loughlin and her husband pleaded guilty in the college scandal. Any thoughts?

Jake: I wish I’d repped them, instead of my nephew. A fat fee without having to try the case.

Paul: That’s a little cynical. What about your quest for justice?

Jake: Justice doesn’t put pork chops on the table.

Paul: So why did they plead guilty after claiming innocence for the past year?

Jake: Because their lawyers aren’t idiots. They knew that jurors would find their clients to be rich, arrogant liars who thought they could game the system.

Paul: Are you saying that a defendant’s personality affects a trial’s outcome?

Jake: Duh! It’s Trial Practice 101.

Paul: So you would have plead out Lori Loughlin in return for a couple months prison time, rather than risk a trial?

Jake: Maybe not. Maybe, I’d put her on the stand, but not in designer duds. She’d admit everything and cry – actress tears – and say she’s sorry. Then, in closing argument I’d ask for a “Texas verdict.”

Paul: Which is?

Jake: “Not guilty, but don’t do it again.”

Paul: Okay, back to “Cheater’s Game,” I thought you’d retired, but here you are, back in the courtroom.

Jake: Don’t blame me, Scribbler. I hung up my briefcase after “Bum Deal,” but you put me to work again.

bum deal
Lassiter thought he’d hung up his briefcase after “Bum Deal.”

Paul: Admit it, Jake. You missed the combat of a criminal trial.

Jake: That’s your fantasy, Desk Jockey. Mine is to snooze in a hammock, drink tequila, and feed the peacocks.

Paul: You came back because your nephew Kip got in trouble. The boy you raised as your own son. That had to be painful.

Jake: I thought I’d taught Kip ethics and values, but I failed. I let him down.

“You release your child into the world, like launching a toy sailboat in a pond. Except the world is not a placid pond. More often, it is a raging sea, and life a perfect storm. You cannot prepare the child because your own personal crises, traumas and failures are just that, your own. Your child, as you will belatedly learn, is not you.” – Jake Lassiter in “Cheater’s Game”

Paul: There’s a lot of blame to go around in the college scandal.

Jake: I don’t understand it. Why would parents cheat to get their kids into so-called elite universities? Don’t they realize they’re saying, “You can’t make it on your own? And your only honors will be summa cum fraud.”

“In a society without shame, where faking it is making it and deceit trumps virtue, integrity is for losers and cheaters win. Fairness? Forget about it! A meritocracy? In your dreams! Earn your diploma? Why bother, when you can buy it?” – Jake Lassiter in “Cheater’s Game”

Paul: Yet, you plead your nephew “not guilty” and defend him in federal court when you know he took students’ SAT exams for big bucks?

Jake: All these years, Scribbler, and you’re still clueless about the justice system. My job is to force the government to prove its case.

Paul: Speaking of “years,” you were 40 in “To Speak for the Dead.” Thirty years later, you’re 60. How does that work?

Jake: Being fictional helps. Say, how are things at the Old Writers’ Home?

Paul: Forget about me. How’s your health? Your headaches, your memory problems.

Jake: You’re the punk who gave me chronic traumatic encephalopathy. I didn’t think you could even spell it.

The violent sport of pro football.

Paul: Sorry about all those concussions at Penn State and with the Miami Dolphins. But it did bring you together with Dr. Melissa Gold, renowned neuropathologist. And…your fiancée.

Jake: About time you gave me a grown-up relationship, after all those femme fatales and floozies.

Paul: News flash, Lassiter. Nobody says “floozies” anymore.

Jake: News flash, Word Boy. You’re the ventriloquist. But it’s true that I’m in love with my doctor and she’s come up with experimental treatments that might help hundreds of other former players with C.T.E.

Paul: Would your brain injury have anything to do with your bizarre conduct during Kip’s trial?

Jake: You mean my hearing voices and lapsing into a George Carlin routine in the judge’s chambers?

Paul: Judge Speidel said you were flirting with contempt.

Jake: Flirting, hell! I took her all the way.

Paul: Judge Speidel seemed miffed that you didn’t give him due respect.

Jake: Federal judges! So damned high and mighty.

“Federal judges are phantoms who inhabit marble palaces, hidden from prying eyes and cameras. They sit on thrones and are served by a retinue of clerks, assistants, deputies, and, for all I know, court jesters.” – Jake Lassiter in “Cheater’s Game”

cheater's game cover
Lassiter tackles the college admissions scandal and tangles with a federal judge in “Cheater’s Game.”

Paul: Face it, Jake. Your closing argument was unethical.

Jake: I’m not bad. You just write me that way.

Paul: You basically asked for “jury nullification.” Acquit my client even though he did everything the government charged him with.

Jake: I prefer to call it a “Texas verdict.” Do you know what that is?

Paul: You just told me a minute ago. So…what was the jury’s verdict?

Jake: I’d tell you if I could remember. But you’re the one who gave me memory problems, you multisyllabic babbler!

Paul: I’m not the one who told you to use your helmet as a battering ram.

Jake: You put me on the kickoff team, the suicide squad! What did you think would happen?

Paul: So, what now? You gonna retire again or smash down the doors to the courthouse and try another case?

Jake: Not up to me, is it, Svengali?

Paul: Now that you mention it, there’s a case I just heard about that’s right up your alley.

Jake: Great. You know what I always say?

Paul: Of course, I do.

Jake: “I want a cause that’s just, a client I like, and a check that doesn’t bounce. Two out of three, and I’m ahead of the game.” So, I’ll see you around, Scribbler.

“Cheater’s Game” is available in paperback, ebook, and audio. For more information, please visit my Amazon Author Page.

Mystery Novels vs. Thrillers

By Paul Levine

At a conference recently, I was asked, “Do you write mystery novels or thrillers?”

“Yes,” I answered with a smile.

Okay, it’s a wise ass reply. There are discernible differences between the two genrea.  As Wikipedia succinctly explains, the thriller hero must stop the villain’s plans, rather than uncover a crime that has already happened. The latter situation is, of course, the setup for classic mystery novels.

By the time Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple or Columbo or Jessica Fletcher appears on the scene, the murder has been committed, the mystery is underway, and the heroes use their powers of detection to nail the killer.

Mystery Novels Raise Questions

So, “The Maltese Falcon” and “Gone Girl” are mystery novels. There are questions to answer. In “Falcon,” who shot Sam Spade’s partner and why are people willing to kill to get that black bird?

mystery novels, gone
Mystery Novels: “Gone Girl” is a classic mystery, despite the cover sticker proclaiming it a “thriller.”

In Gillian Flynn’s runaway bestseller “Gone Girl,” why did Amy Dunne go missing? Did her husband kill her? And…oh, wait! I can’t ask the next question, because as with many mystery novels, there’s a huge TWIST halfway through, and I won’t spoil either the book or movie for you.

Mystery Novels Are Puzzles

Mystery novels are often puzzles that are solved by the hero discovering the identity of the villain…and hopefully bringing him/her to justice. But there are sub-genres. The “closed mystery” or “whodunit?” conceals the identity of the villain until late in the story, while the “open mystery” reveals the perpetrator committing the “perfect crime” at the beginning, forcing the hero to figure it out at the end.  Columbo, anyone?

mystery novels, tattoo
Is “…Tattoo” a mystery or a thriller? Both!

In thrillers, the hero and the reader generally know the identity of the villain. Often, there are chases, explosions of violence, and a “ticking clock” race against time. The hero is often in danger, as are people he cares about. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “Strangers on a Train,” “The Silence of the Lambs,” and “The Day of the Jackal” are all thrillers…but all also have elements of mystery. In “…Tattoo,” a mystery is at the heart of the story. What happened to the missing teenage girl nearly 40 years ago? But the action of the story is the hallmark of the thriller.

Mystery Novels and Thrillers Overlap

All of which brings up an important point. There is much overlap in these definitions.

So, back to the question at that panel…where do I fit in? I’m going to be as evasive as a shady witness on the stand. I prefer the broad category that labels me a writer of “crime fiction.” In fact, that’s where you’ll find me in Wikipedia, (alphabetically) just after Elmore Leonard and before Laura Lippman. And that’s a very fine place to be.

But then Wikipedia also says I’m a thriller writer and a mystery writer…alphabetically just after Gaston Leroux. Who? He wrote “Phantom of the Opera.”

To make matters more confusing, I write “legal thrillers,” which combine elements of mystery novels –who’s the murderer and will he/she be convicted? — with the classic thriller that places the hero in jeopardy.

mystery novels; alibi
Mystery Novels: Legal Thrillers Can be Both Mysteries and Thrillers

My legal thrillers clearly overlap the boundaries I’ve described. How else to explain that they’ve been nominated for the International Thriller Writers Award (“The Deep Blue Alibi”), the Edgar Allan Poe (crime fiction) award (“Kill All the Lawyers”), the Shamus (private detective) Award (“State vs. Lassiter”) and even the James Thurber humor award. (“Solomon vs. Lord.”)

So, bottom line…don’t worry about labels. Read what you enjoy. Mystery, thriller, or the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are pretty mysterious, too. Until next time…

Paul Levine


A catastrophic jetliner crash. A billion-dollar lawsuit. The defense? Kill anyone, even a Supreme Court Justice, to win the case.

Was negligence or terrorism responsible for the horrific Everglades jetliner crash at the center of Impact? That’s what a billion-dollar lawsuit must decide in this thriller from bestselling crime author Paul Levine.

As the lawsuit winds its way through the federal courts, law professor Sam Truitt ascends to the Supreme Court. Truitt’s high ideals and lofty intentions hide a troubled marriage. At his side is Lisa Fremont, his stunning and brilliant law clerk, who has a dark secret in her past.

Will this be the case that costs them their lives?

If Lisa fails to secure Sam’s vote in this high-stakes lawsuit, she’ll lose her life – and so will he. He’s always lived by the rules; she never has. But in this gripping tale of seduction and betrayal, the two must join forces to battle those who live by no law at all.

Impact was the inspiration for television drama First Monday, starring James Garner and Joe Mantegna. Now available as an ebook and trade paperback, it was originally published as a hardcover titled 9 Scorpions. Read what others have said about Paul Levine’s thrilling novel.


“A relentlessly entertaining summer read.” – New York Daily News

“A breakout book, highly readable and fun with an irresistible momentum, helped along by Levine’s knowledge of the Supreme Court and how it works.” – USA TODAY

“A big brash blend of violence, sex, and the Supreme Court.” – Miami Herald

“There’s a first-rate chase scene in the Everglades that helps puts the “thrill” in this thriller.” – The Mystery Reader

“Sizzles the Supreme Court as it has never been sizzled before, even by Grisham.” – F. Lee Bailey

“A master storyteller. The Supreme Court was never as dangerous or sexy.” – Stephen J. Cannell

“A masterfully written thriller, coiled spring tight. The plot is relentless. I loved it!” – Michael Palmer


A nuclear missile…
A cult of terrorists…
And only two people who can prevent Armageddon.

Do a lowly sergeant and a female psychiatrist have what it takes to prevent a nuclear holocaust? You’re about to find out in this gripping thriller from bestselling crime writer Paul Levine.

In Ballistic, the future of the world is at stake when a doomsday cult hell-bent on bringing about Armageddon captures an ailing U.S. Air Force missile base. Ballistic is set against the real-world findings of the Air Force that an alarming number of missile launch officers are suffering from boredom, burnout, and some are even cheating on routine preparedness exams.

The greatest disaster in the history of mankind is imminent.

With morale and discipline suffering as a nuclear arms treaty forces the disbandment of the base’s missile squadrons, a home-grown horde of heavily armed religious commandos led by Brother David moves in. His mission: to realize Armageddon as prophesied by the Book of Revelations.

Sergeant Jack Jericho is haunted by an act of cowardice in his past. Dr Susan Burns is a psychiatrist trapped in the launch control capsule during routine missile crew tests. Will the pair be able to work together and battle their own demons to defeat these religious terrorists once and for all?


Ballistic” is ‘Die Hard’ in a missile silo. Terrific!”

– Stephen J. Cannell

“Imagine Paul Levine channeling Tom Clancy but with a sense of humor and far, far better writing.”

– Kindle Nation Daily

“It’s easy to compare Levine to Tom Clancy but I think he’s better for two simple reasons—he’s a better storyteller and his characters are more believable, good guys and bad guys alike.”

– Ed Gorman, author of Blood Moon

Free eBooks: The Road to Hell

Free ebooks by established authors are hard to find.  However, The Road to Hell is a boxed set of four of Paul Levine’s gripping short stories offered FREE for a short time on several e-publishing platforms. These stories all have the word “hell” in their titles, but they have more in common than just that. In each of them, the heroes must travel dark and dangerous paths, confronting devilish and powerful villains in their search for answers. Those journeys take place by land, by sea or simply in the mind, and will have crime fiction fans gripped from beginning to end. If you’re looking for free ebooks, look no more.

“El Valiente en el Infierno” (The Brave One in Hell)

When his mother dies, a 13-year-old Mexican boy bravely crosses the border and goes in search of his father, a migrant working in the United States. In a short story inspired by a tale the author heard in Mexicali, and a roadside sign he saw near the Mexican border, the boy’s courage is tested to the limit when he crosses paths with two gun-toting American vigilantes.

Free EBooks: A Hell of a Find

Development Hell

This well-known Hollywood phrase is used to describe the purgatory in which books and screenplays get stuck while in “development”, rather than being made into films. In this short story, a bedraggled Edgar Allan Poe comes to blows with a slick Hollywood producer in a “pitch session” that shows off the author’s colorful imagination to full effect.

A Hell of a Crime

The insecure prosecutor at the centre of A Hell of a Crime exists in the shadow of his more prominent lawyer-parents, but all is not as it seems in this dysfunctional legal family. With a father who was revered as a District Attorney, and a mother who’s a powerful trial lawyer, our prosecutor protagonist has the weight of decades of legal experience behind him. But why does his mother interfere as he prepares to prosecute in a murder trial?

Solomon & Lord: To Hell and Back

Mismatched Miami law partners Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord are back, in a short story that sees the ethically-challenged Solomon up to no good. Straight-laced Victoria is suspicious when Steve tells her he’s off to go fishing with sleazy con man Manuel Cruz. Knowing that Cruz embezzled a bundle from Steve’s favorite client, Victoria suspects that there’s something fishier going on than fishing. What’s Steve up to this time? Something between mischief and murder.

So, if you’re looking for free ebooks, The Road to Hell is a good place to start.  It’s available FREE at Kindle, Barnes and Noble , and Smashwords for a limited time.