Please welcome our June author of the month, William Lashner, creator of the hit legal series featuring the irreverent and indomitable Victor Carl!
REVIEW and SYNOPSIS OF LASHNER'S LATEST:
Falls the Shadow by William Lashner
Publisher: William Morrow ISBN: 0060721561
Philadelphia defense attorney Victor Carl has no problem with his self-appointed role as a self-absorbed and uncaring man; in fact it's a role he plays quite proudly. Only thing is, it's as far from the truth as can be. And it's in his recent duo of cases that Victor proves just how caring and sensitive this irreverent and irrepressible lawyer can really be.
The first case involves that of a local chef, a real ladies' man, accused of killing his young estranged wife and, as he's already been convicted and sentenced, it's Victor's role to win an appeal and get him acquitted. But of course it's never as easy as it is on TV and Victor, unsure of his client's guilt but very sure of his client's perverted ways, is having a bit of a hard time proving his innocence, especially when all evidence seems to indicate otherwise.
Meanwhile, Victor is also handed the pro-bono case of a young boy in need of a child's advocate to protect his interests and safety, as his living conditions are far from ideal with a mother whose commitment seems to lie elsewhere. And Victor, uncomfortable in his role as a child's protector, must now come to face the facts that he does indeed care about more than his next big check (which usually never come anyway).
But what makes this story so impressive and inspired is Dr. Bob, Victor's new dentist, a man that seems to be in the thick of things no matter which direction Victor turns. Not unlike the Wizard of Oz, this dentist is far more than a mender of teeth, but more of a man behind the curtain who manipulates events so that the good guy always wins. Only thing is, this time around Dr. Bob's plans may have run into a few kinks, and as all is tied to Victor's case it's up to Victor to figure out exactly which role did Dr. Bob play, hero or villain?
In Victor Carl, and now Dr. Bob, Lashner once again proves himself to be the master of characterization. These are not your typical cookie cutter characters, but rather individuals so fully realized that the life they breathe into this suspenseful and fable-like tale is second to none in its wildly creative spin. And the wonderfully refreshing humor that Lashner infuses his latest with only strengthens this most indescribably heart-melting read. First-rate throughout, this is one read you'll want to enmesh yourself in, wishing all the way that you were more than just an observer, and that in itself is worth more than the cover price alone.
Give us a little background on Victor Carl, and tell us why the guy can't seem to get out of the rut he's in.
Victor is one of those guys who feels they got a bad break in life and that this grave misfortune justifies all the venal impulses in their souls. Victorís bad break is actually pretty normal, a rotten childhood, a broken family, a lack of easy opportunity, but he takes it all very personally. Slowly, however, through the course of these books, heís realizing his breaks havenít been that bad and that most of his wounds have been self-inflicted. Where that leaves him is not quite clear, but book by book he is getting a little more comfortable in his life. Heís beginning to realize he needs to change his life, but the question is how?
He really is a big softy, yet his self-perception is pretty negative, where does this come from?
Judging ourselves is always tricky. What do we look at? Our overt motivations, our deep-seated psychological desires, our actions, the consequence of our actions, they way other people perceive us? Victor knows that his motivations are basically foul, and judges himself accordingly. In fact, if there is a disappointment in Victorís life it is that he finds himself unable to carry through on the worst of his impulses. Think of the guy who finds a loaded wallet in the park. It wonít take much to keep the money but some moral imperative he didnít know he had in him forces him to turn it into the police. Some will think of how good they are that they didnít take the money and float around for a while in a cloud of self-satisfaction. Many of these people become politicians. Victor would judge himself a louse for wanting to keep the money and a weakling for not taking it. Somehow, I always felt these are the people who you can end up trusting when the chips are down.
Now tell us about the infamous Dr. Bob, where did the creative inspiration come for this most divine character?
We all know that man or woman who just canít help themselves from getting way too involved in other peopleís lives. It was that impulse I wanted to write about. Bob is also part and parcel of the great American tradition of thinking that the desire to help justifies anything. Graham Greene wrote about the impulse on a geo-political scale in THE QUIET AMERICAN, and we are sort of seeing it play out right now in Iraq. I thought it was more interesting to write about it on a smaller, more personal scale. There is a great book called COCKPIT by Jerzy Kozinsky that has stuck with me, about a guy who invades peoples lives, and that was another model. Of course, at his core, Bob is just another superhero in a smelly costume, trying to right wrongs and help. I grew up on comic books and so did Bob. Allan Mooreís WATCHMEN gives a really good idea of how crazy the whole superhero thing is for these guys to just up and fight crime, without any real training or supervision. The great surprise, for me was that Bob came out quite charming and funny. Itís his indefatigable optimism that makes you laugh even while you want to punch him in the face. Bob is one of those people who, no matter how vicious you get, just donít know how to take an insult. It all comes, I think, from a certain self-satisfaction that Victor can envy even as if fills him with horror.
Victor's viewpoint towards the good doctor seemed ambivalent at best, do you think perhaps just a little of this might be jealousy arising from Victor's self-perception of his own lack of involvement towards a greater good?
Absolutely. Even as Victor sees clearly the insanity in Dr. Bob, he always admires that the guy is stepping out of his way to try to help. He might not agree with the method or the impulse, but he sure takes advantage of it when it suits him. Bob is like a force of nature, without self-examination or self-doubt, and Victor admires that most of all. It scares him too, of course. Certainty is so far out of Victorís realm that it has to scare him. I think Victor realizes that self-doubt is the one thing heís got going for him in the world.
Dr. Bob seems to have good intentions, yet as we all know, "the road to hellÖ". However, one can't help but feel a bit admiring of his commitment to his goals. How do you differentiate between a more "official" involvement in the changing and "bettering" of lives, and Dr. Bob's? Is it just a matter of being legally sanctioned?
Itís more than being legally sanctioned. Itís having a review process, an appeals process, due process, itís about supervision and someone to answer to. What if Bob screws up? He shrugs his shoulders, comforts himself with his good intentions, and goes to the next project while everyone else cleans up his mess. And in the book, if you look at everything, he did leave quite a mess, along with all the good he did. I think about that story he told at the tooth extraction, about the drug lord and the CIA agent. He wipes out the evil drug kingpin, which is good, but remember the balloons and the kiddie party that was going on? How many kids were killed so Bob could do some good?
Our own legal system has occasionally been accused of going overboard in its attempt to right a wrong, especially when considering the lack of time given to individual cases of those in need, sometimes also leading to tragic errors. How is Dr. Bob really different than an overzealous volunteer or sanctioned employee of the system?
Actually, I think the legal system doesnít do enough. A little more Bob would go a long way. And everyoneís teeth would be a lot cleaner too.
Furthermore, where might the line be drawn differentiating involvement from manipulation? Is this perhaps where Victor's beef with Dr. Bob comes into play?
No, thatís method, and I donít think Victor is at odds with Bobís methods, so much. I think Victor really doesnít want to get involved in other peopleís lives because heís afraid heíll screw them up. The key is the law of unintended consequences. Pretty much with every action we take, the unintended consequences overtake the intended one. We try to help one thing and screw up another. Itís like side effects with drugs. Victor feels that everyone has the right to screw up their own lives and then to fix them again without his interference. Mind your own damn business. Thatís not a terrible motto. The golden rule is to treat your neighbor as you yourself would like to be treated and Victor pretty much just wants to be left alone.
I was very pleased to see the role of child advocates brought up in your latest as these our some of society's biggest unsung heroes. Tell us a bit more about their role in a needful child's life. (While I'm at it, I would like to give a hearty plug to the volunteers at CASA, a child advocates group whose involvement is deeply needed and appreciated.)
I was a volunteer attorney for the Support Center for Child Advocates in Philadelphia. In fact, the case of Daniel and Tanya Rose was very much like a case I was involved in, where a child was given away and there was no record of her in the system and I had myself assigned to her case just so I could find her. She had actually been given to a fortune teller, which was weird. I didnít have a Horace T. Grant to help me out, but I did find her, in a different state, and she ended up in a household very much like I describe in the book. These volunteer child advocates do an amazing job for very at risk children.
Now that Victor has gotten a taste of what it's like to be protector and hero, might we see more of this from him in the future?
Well see, this is where the contradictions in Victorís character plays out. He doesnít want to get involved, but he invariably ends up as someoneís protector. At first he thinks itís just part of the job, but he is beginning to see, over the course of the books, that itís really an integral part of his character. Itís why Bob has such an effect on Victor, because Victor sees the same impulses that drive him taken to an unhealthy degree in Bob.
Almost done, but fans must be curious as me, what's up with him and Beth? Never? Does Victor really, really mean that?
I donít see it happening, which is a shame for Victor but really a blessing for Beth. Victor is one of those guys that all your friends warn you about and then they turn out being right.
And, of course, we can't let you go without asking if you prefer a gas grill or a good old fashioned coal grill, and why?
Charcoal is way better, it can get hotter and put that nice crust on the steak, but it takes so long that by the time the grill is ready and the coals are perfectly gray, everyoneís too drunk to eat.
And last but not least, what's next on Victor's docket?
Remember what we talked about before, about Victor needing to change. He confronts it when he wakes up after a wild night he canít remember with with a womanís name tattooed on his chest. Itís a case about stolen art, a missing girl, and Nietzsche spouting Hollywood producer. Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the superman Ė a rope over an abyss. Right, and can I have fries with that?
William Lashner is the New York Times Bestselling author of FALLS THE SHADOW, PAST DUE, FATAL FLAW, BITTER TRUTH, and HOSTILE WITNESS. His novels have been translated into more than a dozen foreign languages and have been sold world wide. A graduate of the Iowa Writersí Workshop and the New York University School of Law, he lives with his wife and three children in Philadelphia.