“The Big Thrill,” the monthly publication of International Thriller Writers, recently grilled author Paul Levine about BUM RAP, his new legal thriller. BUM RAP brings together Jake Lassiter, the linebacker-turned-lawyer, and Steve Solomon & Victoria Lord, squabbling Miami law partners. In a starred review, Booklist calls the novel “an irresistible Florida crime romp.”
Q: Paul, has it really been 25 years since Jake Lassiter burst onto the crime fiction scene with your first novel, “To Speak for the Dead?”
A: Is that a polite way of saying Jake’s old…or that I am?
Q: Only that the Lassiter novels are one of the longest running series in contemporary crime fiction. To what do you attribute their longevity?
A: Maybe because readers grow attached to characters and want to know what becomes of them after the caper ends. In Lassiter’s case, I like to think that his values are timeless.
“I have old habits, old friends and old values. I don’t tweet or blog or order pizza with arugula on top. I don’t have a life coach or an aroma therapist, and I sure as hell don’t do Pilates. I’m so un-hip that I could soon become trendy, like skinny ties and pants that stop at the ankles.” — Jake Lassiter
Q: In BUM RAP, Lassiter defends Steve Solomon, who’s accused of killing a Russian club owner on South Beach. Pretty quickly, Lassiter begins to doubt his client’s story.
A: He always assumes his clients were guilty. It saves time.
Q: Is it true that a real federal case in Miami was the inspiration for the novel?
A: True. Beautiful bar-girls were luring men to joints owned by Russian mobsters. The bar-girls would get the guys drunk and run up thousands of dollars in credit card charges for cheap Champagne, proving once again that men – as a group – have the I.Q. of mollusks.
Q: While defending Solomon, Lassiter falls for Victoria Lord, his client’s law partner and lover. That’s a problem for a lawyer, right?
A: A blatant conflict of interest.
Q: Lassiter’s ethical standards seem somewhat flexible?
“That’s called extortion, Mr. Lassiter.”
“No, it’s not. It’s called lawyering.”
Q: For a trial lawyer, Lassiter seems to get in a lot of fistfights. While snooping around that bar-girl club in BUM RAP, he gets into it with the bouncer. Is this common practice for lawyers in Miami?
A: Buckle your chin strap. In Lassiter’s world, the law is a contact sport.
“I’m not one of those lonely warriors of the courtroom, righting wrongs wherever I find them, blah, blah, blah. I’m just an ex-jock wading through the muck of the so-called justice system. I don’t even mind getting dirty as long as the stains come out.”– Jake Lassiter
Q: How would you describe the theme of the Lassiter novels?
A: True justice is nearly impossible to achieve. But it’s damn sure worth pursuing. And rough justice is better than none at all.
Q: And by “rough justice” you mean…?
A: A murderer beats the rap but takes the fall for a crime he didn’t commit. That’s an oversimplification, but you get the idea. Or it can be vigilante justice or personal retribution.
“In court, mostly I lose. Or plead my guy guilty. It’s a dirty little secret, but that’s the deal with most criminal defense lawyers, even the big names who pontificate on CNN. If the clients knew our real winning percentage, they’d cop a quick plea or flee the jurisdiction.” – Jake Lassiter
Q: What’s next for Paul Levine?
A: Mixing the perfect gin and tonic. Making ice cubes from the tonic water helps.
(BUM RAP is available in trade paperback, e-book, and audio formats. All the “Lassiter” and “Solomon vs. Lord” novels are FREE for Kindle Unlimited members, a few bucks for everybody else. This interview originally appeared in THE BIG THRILL, a publication of the International Thriller Writers organization).