I love a thriller whose premise can be boiled down to one sentence. Steve Cavanagh is the master of it. That tantalising “what if?” hook.
In the case of “The Devil’s Advocate” — his sixth Eddie Flynn novel — it’s diabolically simple: what if the district attorney responsible for sending more men to their deaths than any other DA in the history of the United States had spent his career orchestrating murders, and manipulating evidence and juries, to guarantee guilty verdicts?
When a young woman named Skylar Edwards is found murdered in Buckstown, Alabama — a town rife with corruption, right wing extremism and racism — the local sheriff arrests the last person to see her alive, a young black man named Andy Dubois.
Dubois is innocent. The sheriff is corrupt. And district attorney Randal Korn seems destined to send another man to the electric chair. That is unless Eddie Flynn — accompanied by his law firm partner Kate Brooks, his tough-as-nails investigator Melissa Bloch, and Eddie’s mentor Harry Ford — can beat the DA at his own game.
Because if anybody knows all the angles and how to work the system, it’s Eddie Flynn.
But while they battle in the courtroom, darker and deadliers forces are gathering around them like a stormcloud. Zealous right wing extremists have concocted a dastardly plan from which nobody will escape unscathed.
Some legal thrillers are morality plays, their characters and actions blanketed in shades of gray. “The Devil’s Advocate” is good old-fashioned popcorn entertainment. And I mean that in the best way possible. Its major characters are unequivocally good and evil. But the lack of ambiguity only makes proceedings more exciting. This is a masterwork of craftsmanship. Cavanagh builds tension cutting between various characters, letting the reader observe the machinations of the prosecution and defence. It’s so smartly plotted, full of whiplash energy, and fist-pumping courtroom theatrics.
And if you look past the genre scaffolding and its white-knuckle pace, “The Devil’s Advocate” is a meditation on capital punishment, race in America, and the resurgence of the right wing. Contender for thriller of the year? You betcha.