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Leapholes by James Grippando

Publishers: American Bar Association;  ISBN: 1590316665

Reviewed by Narayan Radhakrishnan, New Mystery Reader

(Editor's note: While NMR typically does not review YA oriented novels, Grippando's offering is one that might be enjoyed by any age.) 

Lawyers writing legal thrillers are now a regular thing in popular mystery fiction. And as author Charles Martin Simon puts it, most legal thrillers “will surely be about an ultra-chase, soulful-but-white, attorney/sleuth hero brought into the case backwards, fighting it all the way, against his better judgment, wishes, and all he stands for, against-all-odds, bad-guys-lose, good-guys-win type of thing” (The Money)

So when the American Bar Association, the premier association of American lawyers, decided to publish a legal thriller- I hoped for something different, and indeed it was.  This is one of the most unique legal thrillers that I have read (and I read close to about 50 legal thrillers a year), a legal thriller geared towards young adults to promote an interest in the study of law and its important role in modern day society.  As a lawyer myself, I think back to my own introduction to the law, being forced to study old case laws known as precedents, the tedium and dryness of it all.  But in the hands of James Grippando, the subject and study of precedents becomes alive- research becomes something exciting- and the author literarily takes us through the old precedents that changed the course of history.  And as seen through the eyes of his characters, the young Ryan Coolidge and the old lawyer Hezekiah, the history comes alive for the reader.

Like loopholes in law, there also exists ‘leapholes’- which promote the spirit of law and justice- and it's when caught in this conundrum that young Ryan is forced to seek out the leapholes and rescue himself and his friends from the mess they have got into. A mix of fantasy and a touch of magic add spice to the novel, and readers from age 13- 17 are sure bound to be intrigued by the nuances of law and justice after reading this book.

The book also includes 20 short essays by some of America’s premier lawyers explaining how and why they were attracted to the study of law.

Legal thrillers and law based movies are now subject matter of study in Law schools (law and Popular Culture Studies) and I believe this book will become a must read for the scholar of Law and Popular Culture. A great read- its not often you get a legal thriller with a message- and hats off to Grippando. The author has done a great, great job.

 

 

 

The Assassins of Isis by P. C. Doherty

Publisher:  St. Martin’s Minotaur  ISBN:  978-0-312-35960-7

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader

The tomb of disgraced former Grand Vizier Rahimere is burglarized.  General Suten is attacked by a sack of vipers.  Four hesets, or temple handmaidens, disappear from the Temple of Isis, and Mafdet, Captain of the Temple Guard, is not just murdered, but castrated as well.

Lord Amerotke, Chief Judge of Egypt, not only suspects that the mysterious gang Sebaus is behind all of these seemingly unrelated crimes, but that there are other links.  With his loyal manservant Shufoy by his side, Amerotke travels throughout Egypt, at considerable risk to himself and his family, to get to the bottom of the mysteries.

Amerotke’s zeal to solve the crimes is matched by the interest of Hatusu, the Pharaoh-Queen.  To her, he plundering of Rahimere’s tomb goes far beyond ordinary theft.

For the most part, veteran author P. C. Doherty melds historical research, tight plot, and believable characters without getting bogged down in details.  The action is a bit slow at times, but Amerotke, Hatusu, and Shufoy are believable, enjoyable characters who involve the reader in the story.  This book is a must-read for fans of historicals, but even those who don’t ordinarily read this genre may be surprised by its appeal.

 

 

Bloody Harvests by Richard Kunzmann

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN-10: 0312360339

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

South Africa’s place in Americans’ consciousness has slipped since the apartheid system collapsed, most of us assuming their troubles ended with the advent of de jure racial equality. Richard Kunzmann’s debut novel, Bloody Harvests, lets its readers know they have another think coming.

Harry Mason is a British expatriate, working as a police detective in Johannesburg with his partner, Jacob Tshabalala. The ritual mutilation and killing of a child plunges them into a case that treads the line between modern police work and occult.

Their adversary is an albino who claims to be a powerful witch. Whether he is doesn’t matter. His henchmen believe it, as do those he terrorizes. The albino (who remains nameless throughout) uses his resulting power to run a criminal empire based largely on heroin and the body parts of children, sold as magic charms.

Kunzmann does an excellent job of keeping straight all the characters through whose eyes the story is told, allowing the reader to anticipate conflicts before the participants. He also has a deft hand for letting out enough information to anticipate a climax without spoiling its outcome.

With so many of the complicated parts well under control, it’s jarring to see so many things that should be assumed go lacking. The climaxes Kunzmann meticulously sets up often fizzle through too much manipulation of the reader’s disbelief. A woman held captive for days escapes by listening to the moans of a stabbed man, who helps her to tear down three walls with their bare hands. A criminal redoubt so strong that thirty police will need military support is stormed by two men. Successfully.

Kunzmann fails to trust his reader to keep up with him, and succumbs to the urge to explain everything. Rarely is the reader allowed to puzzle out a character’s motivations, or to digest what just happened. If a character is angry, Kunzmann has him say something angry, notes is was said angrily, then tells you he’s angry.

Much of the narrative reads like a lecture on recent history. Good dialog could overcome this, but it’s too often pressed into service providing additional exposition the reader could probably live without. Witness this monolog by a police inspector talking to another cop, whom we’d suppose is aware of criminal and police activity in South Africa:

“His troubles began for real when one of the most sophisticated narcotics rings ever seen in South Africa suddenly appeared. In the years following the free elections of 1994, when the Apartheid Police Force became the Police Service, criminal organizations seemed to spring up everywhere. As you know, they often use the secret networks forged during the resistance movement to distribute their weapons and drugs. Most criminals arrived, most notably from Nigeria and Eastern Europe, and the Chinese triads began popping up in number. The syndicate I’m referring to seemed to be making use of all of these channels to supply top-quality hash locally, or to export grade-A compressed dagga.”

This speech goes on, uninterrupted, for over two pages. It’s not alone.

Two-thirds of the way through Bloody Harvests’ 455 pages it becomes a bloody bore, the journey through a promising story made drudgery as the imagination that created the story fails to appear in the writing itself. There’s a good book here, but it’s at least a hundred pages shorter, in less tedious prose.

 

Defending Violet by Jennifer Jefferson

Publisher: FiveStar/Thomson Gale,   ISBN 1 59414 536 9

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

This book has the ring of truth that perhaps only someone who works inside the legal system could bring to it.

Meet Ginger Reddy, a tough, driven lawyer who practices family law.  She works in Port Grace, which might be Fall River, or East Paterson or any other down-at-the-heels East Coast city waiting for the good times to come back.  Hard working immigrants, minor crims, and a small upper crust form an uneasy amalgam that passes for a community. 

A few years back Ginger changed from prosecution to defence and then finally segued into family law.  She's interviewing a potential divorce client when the phone rings: it's Violet, a former client, calling to say she's in jail, charged with injuring her young son. Later, the baby dies, and the charge is murder.  Ginger leaps right to Violet's defense, as sure as daybreak that Violet is innocent and the real killer is her violent ex-partner AJ. 

In her rush to exonerate Violet and show the police where they've gone wrong, Ginger tramples a few other lives underfoot: her loyal and hard-working partner Marco, and her husband Tom being the main victims.

As often happens when a pig-headed person gets an idea stuck in her mind,  Ginger doesn't really consider alternatives to her belief that AJ is the villain.  He's got form for violence, why wouldn't it be he who shook the baby so hard he eventually died?   Who else could it be?  And what is it from Ginger's past that  makes it impossible for her to treat this case as objectively as she knows she should? 

Lawyer Jefferson handles this complex story with its intertwined relationships and motives with a deft hand.  I'm sure this won't be the last we hear of Ginger Reddy.

 

 

A Christmas Secret by Anne Perry

Publisher:  Ballantine Books  ISBN:  0345486815

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader 

If you are a mystery buff, in particular an Anne Perry fan, you will definitely want to spend some Christmas time with Clarice and Dominic Corde as they settle in to fill a temporary vacancy in a small town vicarage.

Dominic came late to the ministry after his first wife was murdered.  And his experience in that tragedy has stood him in good stead in other bleak events in his life. 

As in most small towns, they find the village of Brunswick Gardens has its share of secrets and odd personalities hiding beneath normalcy.  How many mask a face of danger? 

In a story written to hold your attention, talented author Anne Perry has crafted a story of people balancing between good and evil. As always we step into the lives of complex characters who seem to live and breathe, people we might meet on the street and call friend.

I'm pleased to recommend this story to any reader.  Enjoy.  I sure did.

 

Rumpole and the Reign of Terror by John Mortimer

Publisher:  Viking  ISBN:  0670038040

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader 

Rumpole of the Bailey is considered by many to be an anachronism because of his tendency to cling to the old ways, yet he is known to be very effective in the courtroom when it comes to defending a client. 

His reputation is not sufficient to satisfy regular clients like the Timsons when he takes on the defense of a Pakistani doctor arrested for terrorism.  Business takes a decided downturn.

How can Rumpole defend a man against whom no charges are lodged?  The new laws permitting hearsay evidence don't help, allowing anyone to accuse another of a crime without evidence to ensure arrest.

A neat turn of events awaits the reader at the end of the story.  Join Rumpole in court and see how the case turns out.  A fun read written with a touch of tongue in cheek to match Rumpole's seeming attitude toward life.

I'm pleased to recommend this book by talented author John Mortimer to any reader looking for something different in the mystery genre.  Enjoy.  I did.

 

The War of Art by Philip Blackpeat

Publisher: IUniverse  ISBN 0 595 67372 4 (also offered in trade paperback)

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Why would you hire a Federal Oil Commission specialist lawyer to track down an art mystery?

Lawyer Philip Melanchthon isn't sure why the super-rich Mr X wants him on the job, but money is money, and most of the work can be assigned to Paul, Philip's junior associate.

The mystery is why a Picasso Mr X has bought was altered sometime after it was painted in 1937.  Was the alteration done by the Master himself, or another?  Strangely, Mr X is more interested in the 'why' of the alteration than the 'by whom'.

As Philip and Paul's investigation proceeds, it becomes clear that there's more to this mystery than a few extra brushstrokes.  Backtracking hints found in Proust, the lawyers eventually find what they think is the truth behind the mystery and a suspicious death as well.

This is an unusual book which will not be to everyone's taste.  If you like puzzles and word games, and have a reasonably informed interest in modern art, you'll enjoy it.  The book is written under an anglicised nom de plume which translates to the same name as the protagonist, who is himself named after an early Protestant reformer who in turn translated his name into Greek from German after the fashion of the day.  That's just one of the odd little jokes in the War of Art.  You may find the continued use of the term "Mr X' and the rash of incomplete sentences annoying, but persevere: affectations aside, this is quite a well-written book with a fascinating premise.