“Bum Luck” by Paul Levine

Bum Luck by Paul LevineI was a big fan of Paul Levine’s Solomon vs. Lord series, which featured a pair of South Florida lawyers who were constantly at each other’s throats—that is, when they weren’t jumping into bed. The mismatched couple starred in a handful of books, but it had been so long since the last one came out (2007’s Habeas Porpoise) that I figured Levine had retired them.

Well, Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord are back, though they play a supporting role in Bum Luck, which primarily features another one of his series characters, Jake Lassiter. Like Solomon & Lord, Lassiter is an attorney (Levine himself was a lawyer before turning to fiction). A self-described “brew and burger guy in a pâté and chardonnay world,” Lassiter had a less-than-illustrious career playing for the Miami Dolphins a couple decades back. His latest client is also a Dolphin: the former benchwarmer is defending a current superstar. And thanks to Jake’s work on his behalf, “Thunder” Thurston was acquitted of murdering his wife. There’s just one problem—Jake is convinced Thurston was guilty, and after the acquittal, he finds himself wanting to wreak vengeance: “Thirty seconds after the jury announced its verdict, I decided to kill my client.”

The dead woman’s father, Clyde Garner, is out for revenge as well, threatening both attorney and client: “You know what you are, Lassiter? Dead lawyer walking.”

Another case, which pits Jake against his pals Solomon and Lord, brings up CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a degenerative disease that often strikes football players and others who have suffered repeated blows to the head. Learning more about CTE makes Jake realize that his frequent headaches and occasional memory lapses may be related to the condition. The book takes a poignant turn as Jake reluctantly decides to undergo testing and find out if his football career may have caused lasting damage.

Bum Luck has a few touches of South Florida wackiness that will resonate with fans of Carl Hiaasen and Tim Dorsey (Jake’s granny’s home cooking involves a heaping helping of iguana), but it’s not quite as outrageously over-the-top, which is fine with me. Even though I was meeting Jake for the first time, I found myself rooting for him, even when he made some morally questionable decisions. And I was pleased to find that his previous adventure, Bum Rap, also features Solomon and Lord; that book, along with almost the whole Levine backlist, is available free of charge to Amazon Prime members. I’ve already downloaded Bum Rap, and am looking forward to catching up with Lassiter’s earlier cases.

Note: Bum Luck will be published on March 28, 2017. Thanks to Thomas & Mercer and NetGalley for the review copy.

“The Ex” by Alafair Burke

"The Ex" by Alafair Burke.I enjoyed All Dressed In White, co-written by Mary Higgins Clark & Alafair Burke, so much that I decided I should try out one of Burke’s own novels. The Ex is her newest book, but she’s written at least 10 others (as well as numerous law-review articles, like “Reconciling Professional Ethics and Prosecutorial Power: The No Contact Rule Debate,” which I suspect isn’t much of a page-turner).

Burke, a law professor who previously worked as an deputy district attorney, brings an insider’s grasp of the legal profession to her story about a lawyer who winds up defending her ex-fiancé. Jack Harris stands accused of committing a ghastly crime: murdering three people in cold blood. He swears he’s innocent, but the fact that one of the victims was a man Jack bitterly hated makes it look like an open-and-shut case. Complicating matters is Jack’s daughter, Buckley, a young teen whom he’s been raising as a single dad after his wife Molly was killed some years before.

Buckley is the one who initially reaches out to Olivia Randall, begging her to defend Jack. Because Olivia and Jack had a complicated history—one which comes into greater focus as the book progresses—she’s reluctant, but their relationship was long in the past, so it’s not a problem ethically. And due to her cheating on him during their engagement, which ultimately caused its end, Olivia feels she owes it to Jack to provide him with a vigorous defense; perhaps if he goes free, she can finally let go of some of the guilt she’s carried for so many years.

I found The Ex to be just as riveting as All Dressed In White, and while Olivia (who drinks too much and is having an affair with a married man) is more of a flawed heroine than that book’s Laurie Moran, I’ve always been OK with protagonists who are less than perfect. Besides, The Ex is something of a redemption story; Olivia has to forgive herself before she can move on with her life. No one is harder on her than she is on herself.

My only complaint would be that one of the plot twists reminded me a little too much of a similar case on “Law & Order,” but that show was on the air for 20 years, so it probably covered just about everything first. After reading both The Ex and All Dressed In White, I’m definitely looking forward to exploring Burke’s previous novels.

Side Note: Burke has an adorable French Bulldog named Double. A minor character in The Ex is “a low-level drug dealer” named Double Simpson. I have to imagine this is not a coincidence, and I just love the fact that she named a character after her dog!