By Paul Levine
Usually, my blogs are on diverse subjects. They range from a comparison of two movie stars’ military records: “Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, and My Dad” to my endless search for a lawyer-hero: “Atticus Finch: Where Are You Now?”
But today I’m turning the blog over to Oline Cogdill, widely regarded as the top crime fiction reviewer in the country. (She’s won the Raven Award, presented by the Mystery Writers of America, to prove it).
Review of “Lassiter”
I’m simply re-printing Oline’s 2011 review of “Lassiter,” which marked the comeback for the linebacker-turned-lawyer, who hadn’t been seen since 1997’s “Flesh & Bones.” I might add that I’m doing this without asking Oline’s permission or that of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel or The Miami Herald, or the written consent of the National Football League. So sue me.
By Oline H. Cogdill
Paul Levine brings a certain symmetry to “Lassiter,” which marks the return of Jake Lassiter, a Miami Dolphins linebacker turned hard-nosed lawyer.
Levine’s series launched in 1990 with “To Speak for the Dead,” named one of the 10 best mysteries of the year by the Los Angeles Times. The Lassiter series came at the start of the wave of Florida mysteries that shows no sign of slowing down and earned Levine the John D. MacDonald Florida Fiction Award.
Now Jake is back after a 14-year absence in the aptly named “Lassiter,” and 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.
And it seems fitting that Levine reintroduces his attorney by having him look into an incident that occurred early in his career.
Like many people, Jake has regrets, especially about his wilder days. One regret is that he didn’t do more to help Kristin Larkin, a teenage runaway.
“Back then, I had yet to develop the empathy for others that marks the passage into manhood,” he says. Today, Jake is a different man and he’s caught off guard when Amy Larkin shows up, accusing him of being involved in her sister’s disappearance 18 years earlier.
Amy, who was only 11 when her sister ran away, had always believed her sister dead until her father recently told her on his deathbed that he didn’t know what happened to Kristin. The obsessive Amy targets Jake since he is the only link she has to her sister.
Jake’s investigation leads him to Charlie Ziegler, a former pornographer turned philanthropist; Alex Castiel, a Cuban-American prosecutor who is one of Jake’s best friends; and Miami’s history of organized crime.
Lassiter Serious, Witty, and Sardonic
Levine’s energetic storytelling works well in “Lassiter” as the author manages to make his novel serious, witty and sardonic — sometimes even in the same sentence. Levine steeps his plot in realism, making Jake’s look into an 18-year-old trail seem plausible.
Jake knows who he is now as well as who he once was — “the egotistical jock with all the trappings of stunted male adolescence.” He knows that rich and famous clients aren’t about to come through his door. Still, he’s a good lawyer and trying to be a better parent to his young nephew he’s raising.
Levine demonstrates that he knows Miami by following Jake’s travels on the myriad causeways, along South Beach and through Coconut Grove. In the story as in real life, no trip to Miami is complete without a visit to Versailles restaurant in Little Havana.
Although Levine put his attorney on hiatus in 1997, the author has been quite busy, writing the humorous Solomon vs. Lord legal series set in Miami and working as a screenwriter in Los Angeles, including writing 20 episodes of the TV series JAG.
“Lassiter” makes us remember how much we enjoyed Jake’s company. It’s good to have him back.
And to that, I say, thank you and return to work on my next book!