Monday, January 31, 2022

Book Review - The Wise Ass (The Claire Trilogy Book 1) by Tom McCaffrey

Oh my. I have no idea how to begin this book review. This book is part mobster murder suspense and part paranormal comedy. The cast of characters is a very unlikely bunch who somehow blend together in what turns out to be the absolutely best story. They are the perfect example of that sometimes our best family is the one we choose. This is not my usual genre, although, I'm not at all sure what genre this is if I'm being honest. But I am very glad that I read about how Jimmy found his way into a career as a New York mob lawyer followed by his escape with his wife into the witness protection program. But is his escape successful? Or will Valachi find him and "tie up" those loose ends? Mr. Valachi is used to getting what he wants and ordering a hit is part of his routine business transactions.

The Wise Ass (The Claire Trilogy Book 1) 

The prologue begins with Jimmy McCarthy as a young child growing up in the 1960s in an Irish family in New York near Yankee Stadium. 

"... my attention shifted to Jerome Avenue and the overhead squealing of a southbound No. 4 train pulling into the Yankee Stadium Station. At the ding-dong-ping sound of it's opening doors, my eyes followed the disturbed descending flock of pigeons gliding down from the guano covered steel girders of the El to sample the last of a patch of flattened Crackerjack on Jerome ten feet away."  - young Jimmy

Chapter One begins with Jimmy, an average guy "with a penchant for procrastination" who got himself through law school. He felt like an imposter, someone who didn't deserve to be there, having been "born with dirt under my fingernails". But not only did he get through law school, he landed a job with large law firm where he did well. He and his wife Gina, a Registered Nurse, had a stable and comfortable life as New Yorkers who worked hard and long hours. They loved their city and were living the life complete with seeing Baryshnikov at the Lincoln Center. 

Things changed only by chance. Dan Pearsall happened to be in Night Court when Jimmy was working his legal magic. Dan was there because his son was in Night Court as a defendant and Dan convinced Jimmy to get his son off the hook as he had the firm's client Jimmy had just represented. And there it begins. Dan was not only a concerned parent but also the gateway to Jimmy being introduced to Mr. Valachi. Jimmy is quickly offered a job as a mob attorney, handling the "legal" work... reviewing contracts and such. So his choice is the very lucrative and less strenuous contract work or to continue as a grunt in a firm working insanely long hours at the beck and call of the partners, and with no recognition. You can guess which he chooses.

For awhile, he and Gina live a plush life in a wonderful new home with savings accounts bursting at the seams... so much so that they have multiple offshore bank accounts to hold the excess.

Then the Feds arrive. In the early morning hours multiple important members of Valachi's group are scooped up. Valachi included. Jimmy included; he and Gina woken from their sleep by armored men breaking his door down and bursting into their bedroom.

Things take a huge turn, Jimmy turns state's witness and then he and Gina enter the Witness Protection Program. Following the trial, they are given new names and are relocated to a very small rural town in Colorado. 

In Colorado they meet the modern versions of Mr. Ed, Mork and Mindy, and Jennifer Love Hewitt's character in the Ghost Whisperer. Seriously, the book suddenly includes a talking mule named Claire, a couple of aliens, and a woman who talks to dead people in addition to a flawed FBI agent, a veteran who has gotten a handle on his PTSD, and a lesbian couple. In order to avoid spoilers, I will not describe the storyline after Jimmy and Gina "Moran" move to the country. And if you don't like to read spoilers, take care reading any reviews on Amazon and Goodreads as there are many, many spoilers.  I get it. This story is so difficult to describe without spoilers. 

My Personal Thoughts and Reactions

I will say that author Tom McCaffrey's writing style had me hook, line and sinker beginning in the prologue. I was transported to the streets of New York through the eyes of a child. Later, it somehow all seemed plausible that this talking mule and these people/aliens not only existed but were believable. They were relatable.

This is definitely NOT the type of book I usually read. I am surprised that I would recommend this genre at all. But as soon as I finished the last page, I knew I had to share it with you.

I tend toward psychological thrillers, stories with terrible people who do terrible things. I think reading a fictional story that has characters who are worse than humans (even if it is just barely) really is an escape for me. Rarely, I read romances. And more recently, I am enjoying historical fiction.  But it was late one night, and while I have many to-be-read books in my Kindle Paperwhite (which I love!) I wanted something different. I was in a rut. Nothing sounded appealing. I had my browser open to one screen in Amazon and one screen in my public library digital loans. I browsed description after description. And thought time and again, "been there, read that".  I was becoming annoyed that so many stories seemed cookie-cutter that night.

I read the description of The Wise Ass and quite frankly thought "that's probably stupid".  At a cost of $0.00 with my Amazon Prime, and in my desperation for something to read for bedtime, I downloaded it. After all, if I hated it, all I would lose a bit of my time and gain more temporary irritation related to my reading rut. 

I am so glad I chose it! 

I enjoyed Tom McCaffrey's writing style and was transported from the streets of New York City to fields of Berthoud, Colorado. The writing style somehow made everything believable. Even Claire, the talking mule, became someone I'd like to meet. In some of the reviews I read there were mentions of this book representing the LGBT community (with the same-sex relationship of Bobbie and Helen) as well as the animal rights community (Claire was rescued from a trip to the slaughterhouse) and the vegetarian folks (again... Claire). I not only thought the story line was going to be stupid, but also thought the book would be full of heavy-handed social commentary. I was so wrong. This story and these characters were entertaining and engaging; each one unique and interesting. And there was no lecturing. Only flawed humans (and aliens and a mule) who were trying to find their way through life and find their place in a community. 

I believe I have found a new favorite author and as soon as I have this review completed I'll download An Alien Appeal (The Claire Trilogy Book 2) and spend the remainder of my day snuggled up and getting lost in a good book.

Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article. “As an Amazon Associate, Ebay (EPN) and/or Esty (Awin) Affiliate, I (we) earn from qualifying purchases.”


  1. Oh Dawn Rae, this sounds like a really good read. Like you I tend to go for other genres of reading material and like you again, sometimes that needs to be shaken up a bit. I will put this book on my To Read Soon list and see how it sits with me. I do believe that the donkey in the story can talk (my Sister in Law volunteers at a Donkey Sanctuary and knows that they do). What a fun story that I'm sure had you laughing and sitting on the edge of the bed too! Thanks for a great review!

  2. This truly sounds like a very interesting book with some very colorful characters, and something that I might enjoy. Thanks for the recommendation Dawn.

  3. Your book review makes this definitely an intriguing book, Dawn Rae. And quite a contrast to go from NYC mobsters to small town Colorado aliens and a talking mule. Thanks for recommending it.

  4. Dawn Your review has got me hooked. This sounds so intriguing I will download it right now. Thanks for the recommend.

  5. You have me laughing with your descriptions! That alone makes me want to read the book. While it may not be meant to be funny, your certainly struck a "funny" cord in me. I already love the talking mule! When I first started reading this review, I immediately thought of Jimmy McGill (Saul Goodman, the attorney)in Breaking Bad & Better Call Saul.

    This is not my normal genre either, but I really want to read this book now. Thank you for the review and introduction to this author and the series.

  6. I have to agree with the previous commenters. This sounds way outside my normal literary fare (by definition, I guess, since it doesn’t fit neatly into any genre, as far as I can tell!). While I’m generally not a fan of mob stories, when they’re mixed with quirky humor (as in the hilarious movie “My Cousin Vinny,” for example), I’m definitely game. Thanks for an intriguing review and recommendation!

  7. LOL! You're review had me hooked, never mind the book itself! Quoting you, "Seriously, the book suddenly includes a talking mule named Claire, a couple of aliens, and a woman who talks to dead people" - hahaha, now that is my type of story. It sounds so good. Honestly think this could be a movie based on your review alone.

  8. You sound like you really enjoyed and got into this book and finding a new favourite author is always a good thing. Your descriptions are wonderful! Yes it sounds like it doesn't really fit into any particular genre and that is not a problem. The characters sound interesting and love the talking mule :) Thank you for your great review and recommendation.

  9. Dawn Rae: That review just made my year. I was literally tearing up. I also loved all the comments. I’m not sure if you all appreciate how much the positive words of our readers mean to a writer, especially for a first time, late in life writer. I really hope you all enjoy TWA (and the rest of The Claire Trilogy). If you ever want to reach me, I can be reached through my web site Thanks again and have a great day. Tom McCaffrey

    1. Mr. McCaffrey, I am so pleased that you enjoyed my review. I struggle a bit with book reviews - if I enjoy the book very much I am afraid that I won't do it justice in a review. In this case though, Claire and friends made it easy. Thank you so much for the comment.

      PS. I spent part of today visiting Petrichor and Aldor. What a trip! Literally!

  10. I have read this book and had the very same thought—I love Claire, and it seems perfectly normal that a talking mule invaded my kindle! That’s the sign of a brilliant author. I will confess that I know Mr. McCaffrey, and I can assure you, his everyday world is just as funny as his book. If you don’t read his blogs, you should (Thewisenovelist). He’s a fabulous author and one of the good guys. There really is a Claire, and she’s fabulous too! 😀

    1. Thank you for the comment and the information about the blog. I hadn't known about the blog before now. I had seen a photo of the real Claire at some point and loved it! I will definitely check out the blog.


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