Jake Lassiter is an endearing character and author Paul Levine has provided him with a thrilling roller coaster of a story in which Jake can show off his self-deprecating sense of humor and his folksy “I’m just a jock” persona. On a superficial level, the plot and characters are fun, like watching a “B” movie where the villain ties the damsel to the tracks and the hero must save her before the train rolls through. If you can suspend reality and just go with it, it’s an enjoyable ride.
But if you are sensitive to reality, and particularly legal reality (what really can happen in a courtroom), then you probably want to sit this one out. Start with the introduction of Jake as he defends a long-time client, Blinky, who is accused of being the behind-the-scenes partner in a con/swindle scheme in which his co-defendant was the front man. There is reference to the prosecution offering the other guy a deal if he would testify against Blinky. These two defendants have an obvious conflict of interests, and would never have a joint trial. Jake somehow gets his client off, while his co-defendant is convicted. Then, the co-defendant turns up strangled and hung from the ceiling fan – in Jake’s house. The obvious suspect is Blinky, since the other guy, right after the verdict, threatened to squeal to the feds about some other scam that Blinky was running. And Blinky is missing.
There is also a District Attorney who keeps showing up at crime scenes like he’s a detective instead of a prosecutor. There’s a side plot when Jake shows up in juvenile court with his recently discovered nephew, who pleads innocent and then ten minutes later they are having a trial – as if the DA showed up for a preliminary hearing with all her witnesses ready to try the case.
The story then careens through a complex interconnection of characters, including Jake’s ex-wife (Blinky’s sister), and follows her and Blinky to a corporation devoted to recovering lost gold from the Colorado mountains. When Jake is accused of murdering the sister’s second husband, there is a farce of a trial that includes surprise evidence, absurd courtroom theatrics, and then an impossible ruling by the judge that sets up Jake’s stupid and unbelievable behavior that leads to the big “B movie” climax. It’s cartoonishly fun, but bears no relation to reality.
There is also some sloppy writing and editing, including a glaring missing comma on the first page (we know it’s an editing error because when the author repeats the exact same snippet of narration later in the book, he gets it right the second time). Spelling errors that a simple spell check program would have found, etc. The author is also fond of lengthy digressions that tell colorful stories having nothing to do with the plot. But, since the plot is pretty thin, perhaps the distractions are necessary. It’s not that the digressions are poorly written, it’s just that they could easily have been edited out, leaving the book with the feel of a superficial plot and a lot of filler.
This is a book you’re going to want to finish once you start, so be careful about starting without knowing what you’re getting into.