Showing posts with label legal thrillers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label legal thrillers. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Review of Novels that Take You Behind the Scenes in Book Publishing Houses

Two Novels Let You Peek into the World Of Book Publishing


Have you ever wondered how the authors of best selling books get to the top? I just discovered two authors new to me whose novels provide a peek into the offices of publishers and their agents, as well as insight into book marketing and the publishing industry. I will review these novels here.  


Spider Web with Scott Quote, photo from Pixabay


Marsha Grimes offers a humorous look at the competition between publishers, editors, and agents for popular authors . Just to make it interesting, a few hired killers with scruples are added to the mix.

 Writer Steve Martini's thriller, The List, shows another aspect of the publishing industry that focuses on the marketing of an author persona. In this book, an author's idea for promoting her new book involves a bit of deception that almost gets her killed in the end.


Martha Grimes Novels about Publishing


Buy Foul Matter at Amazon
The two books I read by Martha Grimes are Foul Matter, my favorite, and The Way of All Fish, which bored me. Many of the same characters populate both books. We meet the first of those characters, Paul Giverney, in Foul Matter. He is trying to choose a new publisher who will meet his conditions – a publisher who would do whatever it takes to get whatever he wants. He decides that Bobby Mackenzie of Mackenzie-Haack is his man. 

Mackenzie wants Paul badly because Paul writes best-selling books that would carry the costs of marketing them and make money for Bobby, but Paul will only come on board if he can have Tom Kidd, who doesn't like to edit the kind of commercial fiction Paul writes, as his editor. Tom Kidd only likes to edit literary fiction, especially that of Ned Isaly.

Paul is now a free agent and the big publishers are competing to sign him. Mackenzie wants Paul's book, but Paul has one condition that is blocking the deal. Paul insists Mackenzie drop Isaly. Paul wants Kidd to edit his books, but almost everyone knows that if Ned Isaly is dropped, Kidd will also go and he would take Mackenzie's best literary authors with him, including Isaly, who has won a lot of awards for his fiction. Besides that, Isaly is still under contract for one more book. Breaking the contract isn't legal. Paul insists the legal team could find a way if they really wanted to. 

Clive Esterhaus is second in command to Mackenzie, and handles acquisitions along with some editing. His job is to get Paul Giverney under contract. He just doesn't see how he can get rid of Isaly without breaking the contract and also losing Kidd and his literary authors. 

Mackenzie puts a book written by Danny Zito, an ex-mob contract killer who is now in the Witness Protection Program, on Clive's desk, and hints that maybe Danny would like to write another book. Clive knows the real hint is that Danny still knows people who might be able to solve their Isaly problem for them. Danny refers Clive to hit men Candy and Karl, and Clive contacts them. Bobby Mackenzie hires them to get rid of Isaly.

Candy and Karl are unlike any hit men you've ever seen and have their own conditions. They don't want to “do” anyone they don't think deserves it. They take the advance money and study the potential “project” for a couple of weeks until they decide whether they want to take the job. If they decide they don't, they return the advance. Candy and Karl ask Bobby and Clive why they want Isaly eliminated and they can't believe the answer  they get. Karl would actually like to write a book himself, and is fascinated by what he's learning about book publishers. 

As the book progresses, we often see Ned and his friends Saul, Jamie, and Sally, at Swill's bar, where many literary folks hang out. The friends also run into each other in the park, another place they frequent.  Saul, like Ned, is a literary author. Sally is a wannabe writer who is an assistant to Tom Kidd. Jamie is a romance writer. Saul sometimes takes them for dinner at the Old Hotel, which is known for including and excluding dinner guests, and even some who only want a drink at its lobby bar. No one knows what criteria determines who gets in and who doesn't. Clive is one of the anointed but neither Bobby nor Paul can get in on their own. No matter where they get together, Saul, Ned, Sally, and Jamie often discuss their books and the writing process. There's a lot of shop talk.  


Novels that Take You Behind the Scenes in Book Publishing Houses
Photo Courtesy of Pixabay


Ned is at the very end of the process of completing a book.  He's been struggling over what to do with his character Nathalie in the final scene. He has left her in a park after her lover has ended their affair, and he keeps "hearing" her entreaties not to leave her there like that. On one such occasion his thoughts are distracted by his realization that he can't remember what Pittsburgh, the town he grow up in, looks like. This bothers him, and he decides its time to visit his hometown. He thinks that might help him figure out how to end his book. He tells everyone he's going to Pittsburgh. 

Naturally, Candy and Karl follow him so they can observe him and decide whether to take him on as a project. Sally, who had overheard part of a meeting between Bobby and Clive discussing how to end Ned's contract, senses something is up that's not good. She has mentioned this to Saul. Each of  them separately decides to go to Pittsburgh when Ned does without telling Ned or each other. In the meantime, Clive is afraid Candy and Karl might really kill Ned and he might get blamed. So he hires someone to follow Ned and protect him. Her name is Blaze. Clive decides to go to Pittsburgh himself, as well, just to keep and eye on things.   

Paul, although he stays home, is worried at what his demands may have set in motion. He has nothing personal against Ned, so he hires Arthur Mordred to protect Ned. Ned himself is oblivious to all of this. He only vaguely senses someone may be following him.  He does wonder why Candy and Karl seem to be turning up everywhere he goes. 


Arthur Mordred, Candy and Karl know each other and wonder why they are seeing each other on the same turf. It seems like the whole gang is in Pittsburgh, though Saul and Sally don't let Ned or each other know they are there at first. The Pittsburgh chapters are fun for the reader, with Ned mostly just looking around while all the others follow him as inconspicuously as possible, often in disguise. The last day the disguises come off and everyone acknowledges everyone else, but not why they are there. Then everyone goes home and they all manage to get back to New York safely, including Ned Isaly, so the problem of what to do with him remains.  You will have to read the book to see how the situation is resolved, and only at the end is it revealed why Paul wanted Mackenzie to break Isaly's contract. 

The best parts of the book are the conversations between Candy and Karl as they “research the project” and interact with everyone. They provide a lot of comic relief. It was, in fact, this humor and the spoof on the publishing industry that made the book interesting. The characters were not very well-developed, but the dialogue was great. The whole scene (several chapters) in Pittsburgh is hilarious. Some readers may find Ned's mental interactions with Nathalie a bit tedious. though. 

A reader might pick up the idea that in spite of having written the popular Richard Jury novels, which I've not yet read, Grimes is not especially fond of how the publishing industry operates and that would also apply to the way books are marketed and get to the best seller lists. Steve Martini picks up some of these same themes in his legal thriller, The List.

Review of The List by Steve Martini


The title refers to the  New York Times Bestseller List that every author wants their book to be on. I'm classifying this as a legal thriller because two of the main characters are lawyers. The book is much different in tone and style than Martha Grimes Foul Matter. In the Grimes books, there were plenty of opportunities to laugh and the fun was in seeing the characters interact and learning what they really thought of each other. In The List, you will find yourself holding your breath and unable to put the book down. It is full of action and suspense. 

Book Review of The List
Buy The List at Amazon
 The List begins with a Prologue in which Abby Chandlis is running for her life on an old docked ship. She is trying to reach Morgan Spencer, her lawyer, whom she is sure is aboard. She is fleeing two men on the dock, whom you will meet later in the book. Then the book moves to Chapter One and we discover Abby is a lawyer who works with Morgan Spencer. It's obvious the two are very good friends, but not lovers. Abby wants to keep it that way. Morgan doesn't.

Abby has written a book, but since she has written previous books, which although published never got very far, she is reluctant to publish her new book under her own name. She has chosen the pen name of Gable Cooper. She is afraid that if she submits the book under her own name she will get less for it because she's a woman and it wouldn't be marketed well because her other books weren't best sellers. She knows her new book is blockbuster material.

We next meet Carla Owens, who is looking for Gable Cooper. Carla is a powerful literary agent, and she tells Abby that she must get hold of Cooper because a major publisher wants the book and expects it to be very successful. Abby says Cooper is in South America researching another book and cannot be reached. The truth is that Abby hasn't found anyone to play the part of Cooper for the book jacket, interviews, and book signings. She promises to try to find Cooper. She is his legal representative in the negotiations. 

The scene then shifts to Jack Jermaine, a frustrated writer who is currently at home in Coffin Point, South Carolina, using his rejection slips for target practice. He is handsome, rugged, and very good at shooting.

Meanwhile, back at Abby's office, she explains her problem to Morgan, to whom she tells everything. He's upset because they have a new boss, Cutler, whom he doesn't like. It appears Cutler wants to downsize, and that means both Abby and Morgan could lose their jobs. Abby asks Morgan to file a copyright for her on the new book so she can prove, if there's ever a problem with the person she gets to lay the part of Cooper, that she herself wrote the book. The only other person who knows about her authorship is is her best friend Theresa, who is divorced because her husband Joey has abused and almost killed her. Abby had acted as Theresa's divorce lawyer, and Theresa is currently living with Abby.

Morgan, as Abby's lawyer, wants all the details of how Abby intends to pull off letting someone play her part without the publisher and agent finding out who really wrote the book. They discuss all the details of how Gable Cooper will sign papers and contracts that deposit Cooper's advances, signed over to Abby, in Abby's account. Then she will pay Cooper his share. Morgan wants to be sure only he, Abby, Theresa, and whomever turns out to be Cooper, are the only ones who know Abby really wrote the book. Because he doesn't trust Cutler, he tells Abby he will keep all the documents safely at his home.

Abby, realizing she has to come up with a Gable Cooper soon, goes with Thersa to L.A. to hire someone to play the part. She settles on the handsome Jess Jermaine. Theresa is staying with friends. Abby stays in L.A. to continue briefing Jess on his part. After that her plan is to fly to New York, meet Carla alone, and then after the two of them have worked out the details, they would meet Jess at the airport together.

Meanwhile, back in Seattle, Joey has broken into Abby's home and torn it up, waiting for Theresa to appear so he can abuse or kill her. While he's there, the people trying to get the movie rights to the book appear looking for Cooper. Joey answers the door, plays along, pretends he is Cooper, and agrees to sell them the rights for only $25,000.

Abby gets into New York at 2 AM and after only a few hours sleep prepares to go meet Carla. Under her hotel door she finds a handwritten note from Jess saying he can't be Cooper after all, but not to worry, he's made arrangements. She imagines her entire book deal flying away and is furious, but when she calls Carla's office about the change in plans for picking up Cooper, Carla very happily tells her that she has been chatting in her office with Cooper and he's wonderful. Jess had arranged for his brother Jack, older and just as handsome, whom we met earlier in Coffin Point shooting up rejection slips, to substitute for him. Abby is extremely angry that Jack got to Carla before she did, but she's in a bind and finally has to accept the situation in order not to blow her own deal.

Since this is a review, not a synopsis, I won't tell you about all the dead bodies, romance, and double-crossing that follow or even introduce all the players in this drama. The plot is too intricate for me to do that here. I did not pay careful enough attention to all the details on my first reading, and so I was more surprised than I should have been at the end. What I could not do is put this book down. As I'm rereading parts of the book today, I find myself laughing at some parts I'd forgotten about. There is touch of humor because of who the people are and how they interact, even though the mood of most of the book is tense.

Novels that Take You Behind the Scenes in Book Publishing Houses


My Recommendations 


I would recommend either Foul Matter or The List to writers or anyone else interested in the publishing industry. Foul Matter is a light book with a lot of comic relief. Most of the action is intellectual, and most battles take place with words. The “goons,” Karl and Candy, have their own version of justice. They tend to find an appropriate punishment to fit whatever is crime in their eyes. 

Although The List has a bit of humor, it has much more violence and suspense than Grimes' books. It, too, has some vigilante justice, but it's more violent than in that in Foul Matter.  You will find language and behavior in both books you would not want your grandchildren to imitate, but nothing worse than they would see in a PG-17 rated movie or much of today's television, or overhear in conversations. The F-word is used often by some characters because it fits their personas. There aren't any sex scenes in Foul Matter that I can remember, but The List has a few that would be rated R if they were in a movie. Forewarned is forearmed. I didn't see anything that seemed inappropriate in its context, and I enjoyed both books, different as they were from each other.

Which of these books do you think you'd want to read first?



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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Review of The Color of Law by Mark Gimenez


Why Do Corporate Lawyers Have Such a Bad Reputation?


The Color of Law gives readers a fictional peek inside the world of large law corporations and will show you why corporate lawyers have such a bad reputation.

Book Review of The Color of Law by Mark Gimenez: A Novel of Justice Versus Power



We meet protagonist Scott Feeney as he speaks to a group of lawyers he hopes will elect him President of the State Bar in Texas. He asks his fellow lawyers: 'Are we really doing good, or are we just doing really well? Are we noble guardians of the rule of law fighting for justice in America or are we just greedy parasites using the law to suck every last dollar from society like leeches on a dying man? Are we making the world a better place or are we just making ourselves filthy rich?' These words and the ones that followed in the same tone, declaring that yes, they were fighting for justice and that he was proud to be a lawyer, got him a standing ovation. He said he wanted to make his mother, who had told him to become another Atticus Finch, proud.

When the lawyer Feeney wants to replace as president of the bar calls his bluff with a whisper in his ear about his impressive line of BS, Scott replies, 'Henry, you don't get laid or elected by telling the truth.' Unbeknownst to Scott, there was one lawyer, sitting in the back of the dining room by himself, who was not applauding, United States District Court Judge Samuel Buford. He was, however, smiling to himself.

Scott Feeny has it all. He had been a partner at the prominent Ford Stevens law firm in Dallas for four years and was making $750,000 a year. He has a beautiful wife, a nine-year-old daughter, “Boo,” whom he dearly loves, and a mini-mansion in a very exclusive community known as Highland Park. He belongs to an exclusive country club. He has everything money can buy, and he really doesn't want to let his family know what he has to do to earn it. The reader, however, sees it all, and recognizes that what Scott does may be “legal,” but definitely not moral.


Why Scott's World Is Turned Upside Down



Two things happen to change Scott's world. A black prostitute is accused of murdering a Texas senator's playboy son, Clark McCall. Senator Mack McCall is planning to run for President. After throwing the words of Scott's speech back at him, Judge Buford calls on Scott to defend the prostitute, Shawanda Jones, for free, as a court-appointed lawyer. The judge says Scott would make his mother proud by taking the case. Scott cannot find a way to wiggle out of it. The judge rubs it in that it was Scott's speech that makes him decide to appoint Scott instead of a regular criminal defense attorney. 

Defending Shawanda, however, threatens everything Scott has worked for in life. At first, he plans to have Shawanda plea bargain, as his boss wants him to, to keep the case from going to trial. Shawanda, however, insists she is innocent, and Scott begins to believe her. As he attempts to put all he has into Shawanda's defense, the other partners at Ford Stevens fire him because they don't want their firm's name dragged through the mud. Scott's best clients drop him due to pressure from McCall. In fact, it seems McCall indirectly controls almost all Scott has and is taking it from him.

In contrast to the dirty politics and social pressure in what had been Scott's corporate law career, we see Scott's healthy relationship with his daughter, “Boo.” He reads the Constitution to her at night like a bedtime story, and they discuss it and how it applies to life and law. She not only supports her dad's decision to defend Shawanda but also encourages her dad to let Shawanda's daughter live with them to keep her safe while her mother is in jail. Shawanda lives in the projects that Scott is scared to even drive to. Meanwhile, Scott's wife, Rebecca, finally leaves him to run off with the assistant golf pro at the country club where Scott (and she as his wife) have had their membership taken away due to McCall pulling some strings. Her relationship with Scott was not strong enough to survive losing their wealth and social status.

Meanwhile, an old friend of Scott's from his youth, Bobby Herrin, reenters his life. Scott has always been Bobby's hero, but Bobby wasn't good enough at football to get a scholarship at SMU as Scott did. He had to get a student loan. Although he followed Scott to law school, his grades weren't as good as Scott's. Scott and Bobby had once planned to practice law together, but Scott could not resist the call of the opportunity Ford Stevens offered him. The large law firms didn't want someone like Bobby, so he became a street lawyer. As Scott starts losing everything, Bobby begins to play an important part in Scott's life again. Now it is Bobby who can teach Scott a few things.


Power Versus Justice


Book Review of The Color of Law by Mark Gimenez: A Novel of Justice Versus Power
Image  Courtesy of Pixabay, text added on Fotojet


When I began to read this book, I almost stopped because it mostly focused on Scott's perfect life and dirty corporate law. I always, however, give a book at least fifty pages, and by the time I had read those fifty pages I was hooked. The book has a lot to say about power versus justice. Scott finally learns for himself what it means to do good, as opposed to just really well. I was very satisfied with the ending of the book, but I won't spoil it for you. Once past those first few pages, there is plenty of suspense and human interest to keep you reading until the end.  I'm  looking forward to the next novel in this series, Accused, where Scott will have to defend the wife who left him. She is accused of killing the golf pro she ran off with. 

Gimenez writes on some of the same themes as John Grisham and handles them with the same skill. Some critics believe he is overtaking Grisham. Whether that is true is something you will need to decide for yourself. I will have to read a few more by Gimenez to decide, but I'd say he is definitely giving Grisham some competition.




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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Review of Samantha Kincaid Legal Thrillers by Alafair Burke

Why I started Reading Alafair Burke's Books


One day at the library I was looking for enough books to get me through an unpleasant medical procedure.  A man who was browsing the new books next to me recommended I check out the first three Samantha Kincaid Legal Thrillers.  I'm glad I did. I had not read anything by Alafair Burke before, but I'd like to read more of her work.


Review of Samantha Kincaid Legal Thrillers by Alafair Burke


Samantha (Sam) Kincaid is a Multnomah County deputy district attorney (DDA) in Portland, Oregon. Sam had been an Assisant U. S. Attorney in New York before her then husband Roger had gotten a job as in-house counsel with Nike in Portland, so she had moved with him. After they had moved, she discovered he was playing around and she divorced him. Her first DDA assignment was in the Drug and Vice Division (DVD).


Reviews of the Samantha Kincaid Legal Thrillers


Judgment Calls


In Book 1,  Judgment Calls, Sam's first case involved an almost dead thirteen-year-old prostitute, Kendra Martin, who had been dumped into the Columbia Gorge after being raped, beaten and left for dead. The case had been assigned first to the Major Crimes Team (MCT) when it had appeared Kendra was dead. When she wasn't, Tim O'Donnell, a senior DA in the major crimes unit, didn't want to prosecute the case as an attempted murder. Instead he wanted to kick the case down to the general felony unit, for crimes not considered serious, where everyone knew there wasn't enough motivated manpower to prosecute the case thoroughly. Prosecutors for general felonies tried to get rid of their cases quickly by pleading them out for reduced sentences.

As Judgment Calls opens, Sergeant Tommy Garcia, who was in charge of the department's vice unit, is explaining the circumstances of the case to Sam. Garcia wants Sam to take the case as part of DVD because drugs and prostitution are involved and he knows Sam will put the energy needed into the prosecution. Tommy and the MCT believe the case is serious and they want  to catch the bad guys and prosecute them to the full extent of the law. Garcia arranges for Sam to meet with two MCT detectives in the cafeeria, Jack Walker and Raymond Johnson, about the case. It turns out that Sam's old on-again, off-again boyfriend, Chuck Forbes, is also in the MCT. His partner is Mike Calabrese.

By the time the meeting in the cafeteria was over, the way was paved to keep MCT working on the case with Sam in charge of the prosecution. Her relationship with Chuck is a subplot. So is Sam's relationship with her father and her best friend, Grace. These characters appear in all the books.

The other character that appears in every book is Lisa Lopez, an attorney often called in to defend indigent defendants. She is a naive “true believer” who is sure all her clients are innocent, whether they are or not. Naturally, she is called in to defend Frank Derringer, one of the two men Kendra said kidnapped, raped, and beat her. She had identified him from a picture, but she did not know who the second man was. Lisa is Sam's nemesis in all the books I've read so far.

I won't say any more about the details or outcome of this case. I will say there is lots of action and the reader will see a detailed account of how both the police and the prosecutors do their work and what a political atmosphere they work in. The author does a great job in developing the main characters and showing how difficult it is to convict a suspect when most evidence is circumstantial. The plots are complicated enough to keep one interested without confusing readers.

Missing Justice



By the second book in the series, Missing Justice, Sam has been promoted to the Major Crimes Unit after her performance in the previous book. This time she needs to prosecute the killer of a missing administrative judge who later turns up dead. Burke does an even better job with the plot and characters in this book than in the last one. My experience so far with Burke's books is that they are not simple cases of finding one culprit. They are more like complex webs that need to be unraveled, where characters rarely turn out to be as they appear to be, the crimes are committed by more than one person, and the victims may not be innocent themselves . The fun for the reader is in trying to identify those who ought to be suspects, following the threads of the investigations, and  trying to piece together what is found in the investigation before Sam does. There's also enough suspense to keep the reader holding her breath until the end.

Close Case



The last of the three books in the batch I read this week is Close Case, in which a black news reporter, Percy Crenshaw, is murdered in his car. A black woman has also been shot through her windshield by a white police officer who claims it was self-defense, even though the woman was unarmed. Later, there is a drive-by shooting that kills one black woman and badly injures another who is a well-known black activist. A major help in putting the pieces together to solve the crime was a wannabe reporter –a news staffer who had helped the police who were searching Percy's office after his death. This was my personal favorite of the books.


My Recommendation


I would recommend these novels to all who enjoy thrillers, and who can live with colorful language and main characters who have affairs or shack up. These books do not assume that all police and prosecutors are good guys. You will see a very seamy side of life, but that comes with the territory in detective novels and legal thrillers.

The author, Alafair Burke, is a former DDA in Portland who now teaches law and appears on television as a legal commentator. We can assume she has first-hand knowledge of her subject. I'm hoping to pick up another of her books soon. I was sorry to see the last one end. For more of my reviews of mysteries and thrillers, see Bookworm Buffet, my book review blog.

Review of Samantha Kincaid Legal Thrillers by Alafair Burke




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