Jake Lassiter: Wry Wit and Cynical Wisdom

By Paul Levine

UPDATE: There are two NEW books in the Jake Lassiter Series. In BUM DEAL, while fighting brain damage, Lassiter switches teams and prosecutes a surgeon accused of killing his wife. Only problem: no evidence, no witnesses, and no body. New in 2020, CHEATER’S GAME, in which Lassiter tackles the true-to-life college admissions scandal.

Cheater's Game
Jake Lassiter tackles the college admissions scandal in “Cheater’s Game” (2020)

My first Jake Lassiter novel, TO SPEAK FOR THE DEAD, was steeped in Miami lore, which is to say it dripped with heat, humidity…and murder. I dedicated the book to “the city of Miami, where vultures endlessly circle the courthouse, some on wings, and some in Porsches.”

This irritated many of my Porsche-driving lawyer pals, though they didn’t dispute the metaphorical accuracy of the comparison. Jake Lassiter often sees his brethren as sharks, vultures, or other predators. In a fourteen novels, including two featuring Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord, BUM RAP (2015) and BUM LUCK (2017), the linebacker-turned-lawyer cracks wise and busts heads as he seeks “justice or a reasonable facsimile thereof.”

Confession: I borrowed that line from Lee Child, author of the “Jack Reacher” novels, who describes my hero this way: “Moving fast, cracking wise, butting heads, Jake Lassiter is the lawyer we all want on our side – and on the page.”

Readers often post their favorite quotes from the Jake Lassiter novels on GOODREADS. Here are a few, which I happen to like, too.

I’m a brew and burger guy in a pâté 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

Jake Lassiter drinks here
Jake Lassiter, a brew and burger guy, drinks here.

Another reader favorite from GOODREADS finds Jake Lassiter at his self-deprecating best.

“I’ve been ridiculed by silk-suited lawyers, jailed by ornery judges, and occasionally paid for services rendered. I never intended to be a hero, and I succeeded.”STATE vs. LASSITER

A wily veteran of the courtroom, Lassiter observes with a critical eye and pronounces judgment with a wry tone:

“Justice requires lawyers who are prepared, witnesses who tell the truth, judges who know the law, and jurors who stay awake.FLESH & BONES

“I stood there, 230 pounds of ex-football player, ex-public defender, ex-a-lot-of-things, leaning agains the faded walnut rail of the witness stand, home to a million sweaty palms.”TO SPEAK FOR THE DEAD

Jake Lassiter skyline Miami
Jake Lassiter knows Miami, inside and outside the courtroom.

“Honest people don’t need to put their hand on a Bible to tell the truth, and dishonest people could swear on their mothers’ lives and still lie.” – BUM RAP

“That’s called extortion, Mr. Lassiter.”
“Actually, it’s called lawyering.”
– BUM LUCK

Jake Lassiter in court
Jake Lassiter draws a fine distinction between “extortion” and “lawyering.”

For more of Lassiter’s wit and wisdom, please visit my Amazon Author Page.

Paul Levine

CTE: The Deadly Issue Behind “Bum Luck”

football

Mystery Writer and former skip tracer Terry Ambrose interviewed me about Bum Luck for his blog,, which I’m reprinting here. The subject of former NFL players dying of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) has been in the news since publication of the novel in which linebacker-turned-lawyer Jake Lassiter suffers symptoms of brain damage.

By Terry Ambrose

The author of twenty novels, Paul Levine won the John D. MacDonald fiction award and has been nominated for the Edgar, Macavity, International Thriller, Shamus, and James Thurber prizes. A former trial lawyer, he also wrote twenty-one episodes of the CBS military drama JAG and co-created the Supreme Court drama First Monday starring James Garner and Joe Mantegna. Levine has just released the twelfth installment of the Jake Lassiter series, Bum Luck.

From Small Screen to Page

“Both writing for television and writing novels are rewarding and challenging in their own ways,” Levine said. “On television, it’s a shared responsibility. Director-showrunner-actors-network executives. The vision doesn’t belong to one person but is diffused. With novels, the writer is a one-person band.”

Jake Lassiter CTE
Does Jake Lassiter suffer from fatal CTE?

While Levine prefers the independence of writing novels, he enjoys the pace of TV writing. “There’s something about the immediacy of television—script to air in six weeks—that is appealing. Also, I believe television scribbling helped my book dialogue.”

Levine said, “Justice as an ideal is an underlying theme for me. The difficulty of achieving justice is the heart and soul of Bum Luck and the entire Jake Lassiter series. That’s reflected in Jake’s inner voice with lines like, ‘Justice is the North Star, the burning bush, the holy virgin. When you fail to attain it, fight for the next best thing. Rough justice is better than none at all.’”

CTE: The Burning Issue Behind Bum Luck

Attorneys defend guilty clients all the time—and that knowledge is also behind the Lassiter series. “The dilemma of a lawyer defending a guilty client has always fascinated me,” Levine said. “In Bum Luck, Jake Lassiter seeks vengeance, or vigilante justice, against his own client.”

That’s right, Jake Lassiter, in the opening lines, announces his intention to kill his client. “Why would Lassiter, after all these years representing guilty clients, feel this way?” Levine said. “He might be very ill. Remember that he’s a former second-string Miami Dolphins linebacker who went to night law school and became a trial lawyer. In Bum Luck, Lassiter suffers symptoms indicating he may be in the early stages of always fatal Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).

The film “Concussion” brought CTE into the public consciousness.
“The idea for Bum Luck came from a close friend of mine, a former football player and international rugby player, who died of CTE. It affected me deeply. We know that hundreds of former NFL players have succumbed to traumatic brain injuries caused by repetitive concussions and thousands more will die in the future. It’s a tragic situation, compounded by the NFL’s stubborn resistance to admitting the truth for so many years.”

Levine said his primary goal is to entertain. “That starts with character. I aim for rich, complex, layered and often humorous characters who tell me the plot.”

Note: Just this week, The Journal of the American Medical Association reported on a harrowing study: 110 of 111 former NFL players who had shown symptoms prior to death were found after autopsies to be suffering from CTE. Recently, Sports Illustrated wrote about legendary linebacker Nick Buoniconti who, among others from the Miami Dolphins’ Super Bowl teams, is suffering from CTE. I previously blogged about the link between repeated blows to the head and CTE in a blog entitled: “Are Concussions Killing Jake Lassiter?”

John D. MacDonald…and Me

John D. MacDonald

This is the 100th anniversary year of the birth of John D. MacDonald, Florida’s favorite novelist. The Sarasota Herald-Tribune (JDM’s hometown paper) asked a bunch of writers — Stephen King, Lee Child, Jeff Deaver, Dennis Lehane, Heather Graham, among others — to write short articles describing how MacDonald influenced them. Oh, the paper asked me, too. Here’s my piece.

By Paul Levine

“There are no hundred percent heroes.”Cinnamon Skin by John D. MacDonald

It’s flat-out the best opening line in fiction. You can have your “best of times, worst of times.” You can have your “all happy families are alike,” and you can “call me Ishmael,” for all I care. I’ll take John D. MacDonald’s world-weary opening from 1982’s “Cinnamon Skin,” the penultimate Travis McGee novel. The deceptively simple sentence is not merely juicy bait to hook the reader. It encapsulates in six words – SIX WORDS! – the essence of character and the promise of the plot to come.

Cinnamon Skin, John D. MacDonald
The Travis McGee adventure “Cinnamon Skin,” by John D. MacDonald

I never would have become a writer if not for “beach-bum McGee, the big chopped-up, loose-jointed, pale-eyed, wire-haired, walnut-hided rebel…unregimented, unprogrammed, unimpressed.” JDM’s “knight errant” is a man of honor, protector of the weak, nemesis of the corrupt. And yet, he is flawed. He can lose a fight and lose his way, though never straying far from his moral center.

What a blueprint for a fictional hero!

In 1988, I attended the Key West Literary Seminar, which honored MacDonald, who had died two years earlier. His widow, Dorothy, was there to accept the award. We chatted. I told her I was a trial lawyer in Miami and was writing a novel. Told her, too, that my protagonist, “ex-football player, ex-public-defender, ex-a-lot-of-things” Jake Lassiter, owed a lot to Travis McGee. She’d probably heard similar tales at numerous cocktail parties. But she was polite and said she would enjoy reading the book, should it ever see the light of day. Two years later, To Speak for the Dead was published, and I sent a signed copy to her home in Sarasota.

Weeks went by. Then months. No reply.

Late in 1990, I received a fax from Maynard MacDonald, Dorothy and John’s son, who lived in New Zealand. He explained that his mother had passed away the previous year, and he found the book when sorting through her possessions. He had read it. Said he liked the Jake Lassiter character, the mystery, and the Miami setting. And thought his father and mother would have enjoyed the book, too. I was moved and gratified and simultaneously sorry for his loss.

I went on to write nineteen more novels. [Update: Twenty-one more novels including Bum Deal (2018) and Cheater’s Game (2020)]. I titled one of them, The Deep Blue Alibi, an homage to John D. Macdonald’s The Deep Blue Good-By. One of the proudest moments in my life came in the mid-1990’s, when I was awarded the John D. MacDonald Award for Florida Fiction.

John D. MacDonald award winners
Elmore Leonard (right) and Paul Levine, first two winners of the John D. MacDonald Florida Fiction Award.

I recently came across Maynard MacDonald’s fax in an old file. It had been printed on that antiquated thermal paper, and the type had disappeared. Fortunately, John D. MacDonald’s words remain bold in my memory. Profound. Witty. Wise.

“We are all comical, touching, slapstick animals, walking on our hind legs, trying to make it a noble journey from womb to tomb, and the people who can’t see it all that way bore the hell out of me.”

If that doesn’t make you want to be a writer, nothing will.

Legal Thrillers and Rough Justice

By Paul Levine

In legal thrillers, rough justice is better than none at all. To explain, let’s start with a quote from my favorite fictional lawyer.

“We eat what we kill. Hey, they don’t call us sharks for our ability to swim.” – Jake Lassiter

It’s been twenty-five years since Jake Lassiter uttered those words in TO SPEAK FOR THE DEAD, the first of my series of legal thrillers featuring the linebacker-turned-lawyer.

Now, Lassiter defends Steve Solomon, who’s accused of killing a South Beach nightclub owner. To win the case, Lassiter must find a missing bar-girl, battle Russian gangsters, and avoid being indicted himself. Complicating everything: he thinks his client is lying…and he’s falling for the client’s lover, Victoria Lord.

That’s the setup for my legal thriller, BUM RAP, which hit number one in the Kindle Store and lodged me briefly in the top spot of all authors on Amazon, just ahead of a promising fellow scribbler named Stephen King.

paul levine and stephen king
#1 and #2 Bestselling Authors on Amazon, June 6, 2015

UPDATE:Two more novels bring Lassiter together with Solomon & Lord. They’re BUM LUCK and BUM DEAL, and all three are available together as MIAMI LAW.

BUM RAP gives readers a chance to see how Lassiter has developed over the years. In the past, despite all his grumbling about ungrateful clients and lousy judges, he remained an optimist:

“If your cause is just, no case is impossible.” – LAST CHANCE LASSITER

Yet, he rejects the lofty language on the sign in the courtroom: “We Who Labor Here Seek Only the Truth.”

“There ought to be a footnote: subject to the truth being ignored by lying witnesses, concealed by sleazy lawyers, excluded by inept judges, and overlooked by lazy jurors.” – NIGHT VISION

Legal Thrillers: The Games Lawyers Play

He knows the games lawyers play, in and out of court:

“A good lawyer is part con man, part priest…promising riches if you pay the fee, damnation if you don’t.” – STATE vs. LASSITER

He turns down cases, even when he needs the money:

“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 & BONES

bum rap
BUM RAP is the first novel featuring Jake Lassiter together with squabbling Miami lawyers Steve Solomon & Victoria Lord.

Lassiter looks for loopholes in the Canons of Ethics:

“I won’t lie to a judge, bribe a cop, or sleep with a client’s wife…unless I knew her first.” – MORTAL SIN

That noted writer of legal thrillers, William Shakespeare, famously penned: “What’s past is prologue.” (I consider “The Merchant of Venice” one of the early legal thrillers. Talk about rough justice!)

Lassiter’s view is a little more earthy:

“Our past clings to us like mud on rusty cleats.” – BUM RAP

Against all odds, Lassiter still believes in justice, or at least, his version of it:

“Justice is the North Star, the burning bush, the holy virgin. It cannot be bought, sold, or mass produced. Justice is intangible and invisible, but if you are to spend your life in its pursuit, it is best to believe that it exists. When you fail, fight for the next best thing. Rough justice is better than none at all.”LASSITER

Legal Thrillers: Rough Justice Isn’t Pretty

So just what is rough justice? Pretty much, the ends justify the means. A murderer beats the rap but takes the fall for a crime he didn’t commit. Or vigilante justice or personal retribution. Hey, I didn’t say rough justice was pretty.

This is the key to Lassiter’s character in all eleven of his legal thrillers. He believes in the overriding importance of the quest for justice. He will work outside the law to obtain a just result, or some close approximation. Twenty-five years after starting the quest, he’s still hard at work on the job.

BUM RAP is available in e-book, print, and audio, and all of the Lassiter legal thrillers can be found on Paul Levine’s AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE. Kindle Unlimited members read FREE. Just a few bucks for everyone else. Kindle Unlimited is now available in USA, UK, Canada, Mexico, India, Brazil, Germany, France, Spain, and Japan).

BUM RAP: BAR GIRLS AND MOBSTERS

hard-boiled PI

“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.

bum rap
BUM RAP is the first novel featuring Jake Lassiter together with squabbling Miami lawyers Steve Solomon & Victoria Lord.

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).