“BUM DEAL” – The Final Chapter for Jake Lassiter

final Jake Lassiter novel

By Paul Levine

BUM DEAL, the 13th and FINAL book in the Jake Lassiter series, launches today. That’s right. I’m bidding farewell to my old pal Jake, the second-string linebacker who trudged through night law school and became a combative Miami trial lawyer.

Sure, it’s a bit sad for me, but Jake’s been having these problems – memory lapses, confusion, headaches – and it’s time to say goodbye. Dr. Melissa Gold, a neurologist who treats Lassiter during office hours and spends humid nights with him in his Coconut Grove house, fears he may have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) as a result of all those concussions on the football field.

“The past clings to us like mud on rusty cleats,” Lassiter says, and it takes on new meaning in BUM LUCK, given his medical condition.

My first work of fiction – if you don’t count my legal briefs – was TO SPEAK FOR THE DEAD, published in 1990. The book, which has sold well over one million copies, introduced Jake Lassiter, who early on admitted, “They don’t call us sharks for our ability to swim.”

the first Lassiter novel
TO SPEAK FOR THE DEAD introduced Jake Lassiter, linebacker-turned lawyer.

Twelve more Jake Lassiter novels followed, including the ingeniously titled LASSITER, in which our hero hides a shameful secret from his past, LAST CHANCE LASSITER, a prequel that reveals how getting fired from his first job as a lawyer shaped the man, and now BUM DEAL, in which Lassiter confronts his own mortality. All thirteen titles are available free to Kindle Unlimited members. Jake Lassiter lives here

In last year’s book, BUM LUCK, Lassiter began showing symptoms consistent with a “precursor” to deadly CTE. I wrote about the issue in the blog item, “Why Does Jake Lassiter Want to Kill His Own Client?” Now, in BUM DEAL, facing an uncertain future, Jake undergoes experimental treatments for CTE, just as he makes a major change in his life, switching sides in the courtroom and prosecuting a surgeon accused of killing his wife. It’s a nearly impossible case with no forensic evidence, no witness, and no body. Complicating matters are Jake’s best friends-turned-antagonists, lawyers Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord, who defend the surgeon.

Drained of his mental edge just when he needs it most, my old courtroom warrior faces the possibility of losing the case – and his life – in court.

So…does Jake Lassiter win or lose the trial? Or more important, does he live or die? Hey, don’t ask! I’m keeping my trap shut, relying on attorney-client privilege, the Fifth Amendment, and my desire for you to enjoy the tale.

BUM DEAL is available in ebook, trade paperback, and audio.

ADVANCE PRAISE FOR THE JAKE LASSITER FINALE

“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)

“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

Best Books Ever…My List or Yours?

"Rabbit, Run" tops my best book list

By Paul Levine

A “Best Books” list is inherently flawed.  Just as with “best teams” or “best movies” or “best pizza,” beauty is in the eye of the blogger.

A meme has been spreading through Facebook — as memes are inclined to do — asking people to name the ten best books they’ve ever read.  Or the ten “most influential.”  Or the ten that have “stayed with you.”

Using those standards, two of my choices were easy. Without these books — both Florida novels I’ll discuss below — I never would have become a writer. I wouldn’t have sneaked home from the law office to secretly write a spec manuscript that became “To Speak for the Dead.” That’s right. I’d still be wearing fancy suits, billing time at enormous rates, and eating stone crabs at the Banker’s Club instead of working in my underwear all day at home with a can of tuna for lunch!

Let’s admit it.  Any best books list is intensely personal and changes over time. When I was a teenager, I was mesmerized by “The Fires of Spring,” by James A. Michener, a coming-of-age novel based on the author’s impoverished childhood. I haven’t gone back to the book, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t find a spot on my best books list. And in fact…it hasn’t. Instead, I chose “Back Roads” by Tawni O’Dell, the least known author on my list. It’s a heartrending coming-of-age novel set in the slag heap poverty of rural Pennsylvania.

My Best Books List

To ease the task of compiling my best books list, I chose only fiction. Even then, I could only pare the titles to an even dozen.

1. RABBIT, RUN by John Updike.
2. FAREWELL, MY LOVELY by Raymond Chandler
3. BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES by Tom Wolfe
4. PRESUMED INNOCENT by Scott Turow
5. BACK ROADS by Tawni O’Dell
6. MISERY by Stephen King
7. ANATOMY OF A MURDER by Robert Traver (John Voelker)
8. THE GRAPES OF WRATH by John Steinbeck
9. THE LOCK ARTIST by Steve Hamilton
10. GORKY PARK by Martin Cruz Smith
11. TOURIST SEASON by Carl Hiaasen
12. THE DEEP BLUE GOOD-BY by John D. MacDonald

Breaking Down the Best Books List

I was in my 20’s when I read “Rabbit, Run” about the angst of Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, who was my age and living not far from my hometown. Updike, Michener, and I were all raised in small Eastern Pennsylvania towns.  (That is the only time you will see us mentioned in the same sentence. Tawni O’Dell and John D. MacDonald were raised in western Pennsylvania, but I swear I have no geographical bias!)

I could just as easily have chosen two later books chronicling the older Angstrom. “Rabbit is Rich,” and “Rabbit at Rest.” After all, both won Pulitzer Prizes, but I’m sticking with the first of the series.

On the theory that every list should include one book of “Required Reading,” there’s “The Grapes of Wrath.”  Why not “To Kill a Mockingbird?”  It was listed by too many Facebook friends! But for fans of courtroom fiction — and yes, I know, “Mockingbird” is far more than that — I have three other choices. “Presumed Innocent” and “Anatomy of a Murder” are splendid murder trial sagas, and “Bonfire of the Vanities” has some of the most spectacular and hilarious courtroom scenes ever written.

Michigan Supreme Court Justice John Voelker brought realism (and skepticism) to the legal thriller in “Anatomy” while Scott Turow’s “Innocent” and Tom Wolfe’s “Bonfire” are works by master wordsmiths.  Yes, I’m giving away my biases, as we do when we create lists. I’m a former trial lawyer and the author of legal thrillers, so you have to give me a pass on all the courtroom tales.

My Best Books List Must Include Noir

I’m also an admirer of noir crime fiction, so there had to be a Raymond Chandler novel featuring hard-boiled P.I. Philip Marlowe. That’s where “Farewell, My Lovely” comes in.  I could have chosen “The Big Sleep” or “The Long Goodbye.”  All three are classics.  Who could forget this ditty from “Farewell…?”

“It was a blonde.  A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.”

best books, Philip Marlowe
Humphrey Bogart portrayed Philip Marlowe on the screen.

My last two choices, “The Deep Blue Good-By” and “Tourist Season” had profound influence on my life. I never would have written “To Speak for the Dead,” my first novel, without them. John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee, a self-described “beach bum” and “salvage consultant,” furnished the inspiration for my “Jake Lassiter” character, an “ex-football player, ex-public defender, ex-a-lot-of-things.” Carl Hiaasen’s ability to bring humor to Florida crime fiction was a revelation. His deceiving ability to make the writing look easy also suckered me into writing that first book.

That’s my list. What’s yours?

Paul Levine

Atticus Finch: Where Are You Now?

Atticus Finch

By Paul Levine

Hotshot New York City lawyers frequently defend white-collar criminals, and once in a while, the tables are turned.

So it was this week when the bigwigs of a mammoth deep-carpet law firm were indicted for “cooking the books.” No, that’s not the precise charge; it’s what the lawyers themselves called it in emails!

No Atticus Finch here
Silk-suited defendants march into court this week.

Officially, the leaders of now-bankrupt Dewey & LeBouef, were charged with grand larceny, securities fraud, conspiracy, and falsifying business records. In a nutshell, they lied to lenders and auditors in order to obtain a stream of loans to pay themselves and their partners millions while the firm was hemorrhaging money.

“Fraud is not an acceptable accounting practice,” said New York D.A. Cyrus Vance, in what might be called an understatement.

The SEC weighed in, too. “So pervasive was the culture of financial chicanery at Dewey’s top levels that its highest ranking officials — including the defendants — had no qualms about referring among themselves in various e-mails to ‘fake income,’ ‘accounting tricks,’ ‘cooking the books,’ and deceiving what they described as a ‘clueless auditor.'”

Which brings us to the question:

Where Have You Gone Atticus Finch?

I think we yearn for the lawyer-gladiator who battles for justice against overwhelming odds. Witness Atticus Finch, standing tall before a bigoted jury and pleading for justice for a black man wrongfully accused of rape in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Atticus Finch in court
Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) stands tall, seeking justice.

Of course, that was fiction. Harper Lee’s iconic novel was also published 54 years ago. In the intervening time, the image of lawyers in popular culture has changed, and some lawyers are unhappy about it.

When “To Speak for the Dead,” the first of my series of legal thrillers, was published in 1990, a lawyer friend chided me: “You tarnish the profession with your so-called hero.”

Well, true, Jake Lassiter is no Atticus Finch.

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

Lassiter is an “ex-football player, ex-public defender, ex-a-lot-of-things” who unravels a murder mystery in the novel. As a Miami Dolphins linebacker, he was a step too slow, and he’s not that swift as a trial lawyer either. On cross-examination, he asks an expert witness one question too many and is buried in an avalanche of rhetoric. He robs a grave to get evidence, then lands in jail after taunting a witness into a fistfight.

No Atticus Finch here
The first of the Jake Lassiter series.

In “Mortal Sin,” Lassiter has an affair with a client’s wife and in “Flesh & Bones,” he’s sleeping with his client, a young model accused of killing her father. I haven’t checked the Ethical Rules in a while, but I suspect that both affairs are frowned upon by the elders of the Bar. In the current book, “State vs. Lassiter” our hero isn’t sleeping around; he’s charged with murder.

But I hardly invented this shift in focus from earnest, virtuous lawyers like Perry Mason and Atticus Finch to the modern shyster. In Scott Turow’s sizzling “Presumed Innocent,” prosecutor Rusty Sabich is obsessed with his mistress, not the law, while his lawyer Sandy Stern uses “subterranean pressures” on a judge instead of evidence to win his case. The same year “Presumed Innocent” was published (1987), Tom Wolfe entertained us with “Bonfire of the Vanities,” in which a D.A. builds his career with press conferences instead of jury trials. Four years later, readers had no trouble buying the premise that a successful law firm was a front for the mob in John Grisham’s spectacularly successful “The Firm.”

No Atticus Finch here either
You won’t find Atticus Finch in this corrupt firm.

Fiction mirrors reality, so these modern portrayals are hardly surprising. The irony is that many lawyers today picture themselves as Gregory Pecks fighting heroic courtroom battles, even as they churn out endless paperwork in mind-numbing construction litigation or put jurors to sleep with year-long antitrust trials involving the dogfood industry. But dare to criticize the profession, and you’ll incur their lawyerly wrath, wimpy as it may be. (I practiced law for 17 years in both trial and appellate courts, so I feel entitled to take some liberties with my former brethren).

In a sense, it’s not these more modern lawyers who break the norm. It’s Atticus Finch who is the outlier. You want proof? Incompetent lawyers and sleazy judges are hardly new to readers. Works as diverse as Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland,” Franz Kafka’s “The Trial” and John Barth’s “The Floating Opera” portray justice perverted. In the 1982 film, “The Verdict,” (script by David Mamet, adapted from Barry Reed’s book), Paul Newman plays a bedraggled lawyer reduced to scavenging for clients at funerals.

Newman becomes Atticus Finch
From alcoholic bumbler to…well, almost a modern day Atticus Finch.

He is the classic loner pitted against a corrupt judge and a shady defense lawyer, the minions of an evil establishment. When Newman is offered a handsome settlement to drop his malpractice case for a comatose young woman, he can no more accept the money than Gary Cooper can leave town before High Noon:

“This girl’s screaming out for someone to stand up. And it’s me, Mick. It’s me. And I can win it. I can win this case.”

You Can’t Find Atticus Finch in the Bronx

There aren’t many stand-up guys in the “vast and bilious gloom” of the Bronx County Courthouse, the setting for “Bonfire of the Vanities.” Wolfe paints a portrait of Sherman McCoy, a vain but innocent man who falls “into the maw of the criminal justice system.” The Bronx courthouse is a hellish place where smalltime lawyers hustle for clients, and fierce old Judge Kovitsky spits on prisoners who sass him. Then there’s prosecutor Abe Weiss, who schedules McCoy’s arrest on the best news day of the week, hoping to garner headlines after reporters stopped covering his drug indictments as too routine.

In modern courtroom fiction, cynicism is the order of the day. In “To Speak for the Dead,” retired medical examiner Doc Charlie Riggs asks Jake Lassiter to rob a grave to find evidence At first, Lassiter refuses:

“I try not to break more than two or three of the canons each week.”

Charlie Riggs downed his drink in one gulp, gave me his teacher-to-student look, and said, “Just a little private investigation to answer some questions, settle your conscience. Maybe your young lady friend will appreciate you searching for the truth, kind of set you apart from most members of your profession.”

He knew how to push all the right buttons. “C’mon, Jake. To hell with your canons.”
“Come to think of it, I said, “they’re not mine.”

The Books of Scott Turow

Scott Turow and Paul Levine in Los Angeles…

The two heavyweights of legal thrillers, John Grisham and Scott Turow, have new novels out at the same time.  We examined Grisham’s blockbuster “Sycamore Row”  in a prior blog.  Today, let’s take a look at the books of Scott Turow, starting with his law school memoir and concluding with his current bestselling “Identical.”

First, a bit of  Turow’s background.  He graduated with high honors from Amherst, studied and taught writing at Stanford and graduated with honors from Harvard Law School.  He is also president of the prestigious Author’s Guild and still practices law part-time.  According to Wikipedia, “Turow works pro bono in most of his cases, including a 1995 case where he won the release of Alejandro Hernandez, who had spent 11 years on death row for a murder he did not commit.”

Scott Turow

The Books of Scott Turow

ONE-L

(1977) Basically a journal of Turow’s first year at Harvard Law, it is still in print and required reading for anyone contemplating the rigors (and mortis) of law school.

PRESUMED INNOCENT

(1987) My favorite legal thriller of all time. Prosecutor Rusty Sabich goes on trial for the murder of his colleague…and mistress.

THE BURDEN OF PROOF

(1990) Sandy Stern, the defense lawyer in “Presumed Innocent,” suffers a tragedy when his wife commits suicide and thus begins a journey of self-discovery and another foray into the criminal justice system.

PLEADING GUILTY

(1993) Money and a star litigator go missing from a law firm, and it’s up to an ex-cop turned lawyer to find them…and trouble.

THE LAWS OF OUR FATHERS

(1996) Judge Sonia Klonsky, from “The Burden of Proof” narrates a complex tale involving a murder trial. As is frequent in Turow’s novels, secrets of the past emerge in explosive ways.

PERSONAL INJURIES

(1999) A P.I. lawyer with a penchant for bribing judges gets nabbed. Wearing a wire to trap others, he is supervised by FBI agent Evon Miller (who will re-appear in “Identical”). Their relationship is the heart of the tale.

REVERSIBLE ERRORS

(2002) This one has it all: a man on Death Row, a reluctant defense lawyer, and possible new evidence that can exonerate the condemned. Not an original concept, but in Turow’s hands, a richly woven tale.

ORDINARY HEROES

(2005) Family secrets are again at the heart of the story, but this one is a change of pace as a man searches for the truth about his father’s combat and court-martial during World War II.

LIMITATIONS

(2006) The shortest of Turow’s novels, “Limitations” was originally published in The New York Times Magazine. A judge, a rape trial, and questions about morality are at the center of the story.

INNOCENT

(2010) Rusty Sabich from “Presumed Innocent” is back. Now, he’s a judge having an affair…and accused of killing his wife. One of my favorites.

Which brings us to…

The Books of Scott Turow
The Books of Scott Turow: “Identical” is the latest

IDENTICAL

(2013) A state senator runs for mayor just as his identical twin is released from prison, 25 years after pleading guilty to the murder of his girlfriend. The novel is said to take its inspiration from the myth of Castor and Pollux, identical twins born to Leda, after she was raped by Zeus. (I have to confess I had no idea Zeus was such a lout). Early reviews have been mixed. Writing in “The New York Times Book Review,” Adam Liptak complained:

“‘Identical” is stuffed with so many themes and reversals that readers may end up feeling the way you do after a long family meal with too much talk and food: disoriented, logy and a little nostalgic. Turow has many gifts. He might consider being a little more parsimonious in doling them out.”

At another point in the review, however, Liptak states:

“Still, the rich, sharp courtroom scenes, always Turow’s specialty, are the best parts of the book. He is particularly good at showing how judges use minor rulings to nudge a case to their preferred outcome.”

Now, Turow doesn’t need my help selling books. But, as always with reviews, it’s better to read the book…and make your own decision.  What’s your verdict on the books of Scott Turow?

Paul Levine