Steve Cavanagh’s debut novel, The Defence, mixes the tough guy dynamic of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher with the smarts of John Grisham’s legal dramas. Think Die Hard in a New York courthouse; a rocket-fast thriller layered with potential for a long-running series starring the con-man-turned-lawyer-turned-drunk Eddie Flynn.
There’s no elongated set-up; no cliché-ridden soliloquies: The Defence opens with a gun pressed to Eddie’s spine, and his forced induction into crime boss Olek Volchek’s legal team. No sooner has Eddie been pulled off the street, he’s strapped to a bomb and informed his daughter has been kidnapped, and will be killed unless he completes his mission. But Eddie’s job isn’t what you’d expect: to absolve Volchek of his crimes through legal means. Instead he is to act as a suicide bomber, and eliminate the mysterious witness who instigated the trial.
It’s a fantastic setup, and the ensuing pages involve some wonderfully scripted back-and-forth’s between prosecution and defence, peppered with legal jargon (but streamlined, thankfully, for the sake of the narrative) as well as some pulse-pounding action scenes, and moments thick with tension – particularly as the stakes ramp up towards the novel’s end. Double-crosses abound on both sides – Volchek’s scheme may not be as fool-proof as he’d thought, and the men Eddie labels as allies may not be the knights in shining armour he’d hoped.
My issues are few, but glaring. One is a distinct lack of a strong female lead – this is very much a man’s novel, with sparing use of the opposite sex, which didn’t bother me until after-the-fact; I was to focused during my initial read-through to notice the absence. Then there’s Eddie’s history, which is detailed far too extensively for my liking, leaving me wondering whether there’s new territory for Cavanagh to mine in a potential sequel. The novel dips into Eddie’s past, how he became a con man, then a lawyer, and the case that drove him to alcoholism. These interludes – paragraphs rather than pages in length – are fascinating, but I wonder if they deserve elongating in a sequel, or heck, even a prequel. I’m a huge admirer of Lee Child’s decision to shine the spotlight on Reacher’s past in specific novels – The Enemy, set during his military police days, is one of the finest in the series.
But these points don’t detract from my overall enjoyment of The Defence. It made for a fantastic summer-read, hours lost as the pages turned freely. Steve Cavanagh and Eddie Flynn are names to keep an eye out for. I’ll be around for the next one. Guaranteed.