Review: Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

9781529335392.jpgFinally, a legal thriller with something to say, infused with more than just rudimentary courtroom drama and token plot twists, that positively glows with ambition and scope as it tackles weighty themes of parenthood, justice, guilt,  immigration, and the precariousness of truth. Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek is electrifying; a much-needed jolt to a stagnant genre; as literate and thoughtful as it is fast-moving and relentless.

Young and Pak Yoo live in Miracle Creek, a small town in Virginia, with their teenage daughter, Mary. After immigrating to Virginia from Seoul, they start a hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) business that operates in the barn behind their home. Treatment involves sitting in a chamber — referred to as the “submarine” — and breathing pure, pressurised oxygen. The theory is, because damaged cells need oxygen to heal, extra oxygen can result in faster healing of a variety of conditions, including cerebral palsy, male infertility and autism. 

Miracle Creek opens with Young Yoo narrating her version of events on the night of the fatal explosion at the submarine, that left two people dead, her husband in a wheelchair, Mary permanently scarred, and others seriously injured. It then cuts to one year later, and the beginning of the murder trial of Elizabeth Ward, who has been accused of starting the fire that lead to the explosion in order to kill her eight-year-old son Henry, who was undergoing HBOT for his autism. The narrative jumps between various characters, and flits back and forth between the night of the explosion and the present, exposing the true events of that night, and the culpability of everyone involved in the tragedy, directly and indirectly.

Bold and devastating, Miracle Creek is a must-read revitalisation of the legal thriller itself.

ISBN: 9781529335392
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 368
Imprint: Hodder & Stoughton
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publish Date: 23-Jul-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Whistler by John Grisham

isbn9781444791143-detail.jpgA great premise deserves better than this by-the-numbers rendition of a high-stakes investigation into judicial misconduct. The front cover promises an electrifying thriller, but Grisham’s latest doesn’t even spark.

Lacy Stoltz, an investigator for the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct, is confronted with the possibility that a highly regarded judge may be on the take. According to an enigmatic and indicted lawyer who is representing a clandestine whistle-blower, Claudia McDover is in league with organised crime. If the whistle-blower’s accusations prove correct, that would make McDover the most corrupt judge in US history. As Grisham makes abundantly clear: Stotlz and her colleagues are not cops. They don’t carry guns, they don’t deal with traditional bad guys; they root out corruption. Which means they’re totally unprepared for the dangers that await them.

The Whistler suffers from a distinct lack of thrills and gusto. There is one moment – one – genuinely shocking event, maybe 100 pages into proceedings… and that’s it. Then the novel reverts to form, and plays out just as readers will expect. It’s a little infuriating that Grisham does so little with such a potentially intriguing plot. There are minimal twists – if any – and the prose is so dry it could be sandpaper. Everything is telegraphed, and bizarrely, the novel reads like this was intentional; like Grisham made the stylistic choice. I just don’t understand it. There’s still something enthralling about the plot — a part of me thinks I retained interest because I assumed another dramatic moment was looming, which never eventuated, but kept me turning the pages — but that might be a little harsh. For all my criticism, The Whistler is a book I finished over a couple of nights.

Lacy Stoltz, the protagonist, is impressively fearless, but also rote: we never really understand what drives her, and the few glimpses we have into her life are fairly uninspired. Let me paint you a picture: she’s single, not really interested in a relationship; but is attractive enough to turn heads; lives alone with her dog; very career-focused. None of these traits are bad, you understand; but they’re not nuanced, or massaged into her personality. They are quite literally just stated on the page, and that’s about the limit of her characterisation.

Grisham’s insight into legal proceedings is, as always, highly captivating — but it’s not enough to sustain this tepid thriller. An unfortunate misstep for the multi-million copy bestseller. I’ll be interested to see what his legion of fans think. Am I alone in my reservations? I think I’ll re-read The Client or The Pelican Brief — heck, maybe even my old favourite The Street Lawyer — just to remind myself how good Grisham can be.

ISBN: 9781444791143
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 384
Imprint: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General Division
Publish Date: 25-Oct-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham

RogueSebastian Rudd is a criminal defence attorney who takes on cases other lawyers avoid. He doesn’t maintain a traditional office; he works from the back of a car (not a Lincoln, thank goodness; Michael Connelly’s Mickey Haller might file a lawsuit). He doesn’t belong to a law firm; he’s a lone gunman, an essential cog in the justice system that stipulates innocence until proven guilty.

Rudd is a fascinating protagonist; not necessarily likable, but someone readers will respect and admire for his tenacity, unorthodox methods, and legal expertise. He admits to being a terrible father, and has also proved himself an abysmal husband (now ex); and representing criminals means he’s never far away from society’s underbelly, who are prone to holding grudges; and he’s blacklisted by the nebulous “City’s” police department. Although he’s happy to bend the rules, he never breaks them; he will use every bit of legal trickery he can muster, but is never outright dishonest.

Rogue Lawyer opens with Rudd defending a client who appears to be guilty, but is in fact not. The evidence is circumstantial at best, if not entirely fiction. It’s the perfect introduction to Rudd; a case where he is actually defending an innocent man. It immediately gives him credence and conjures readers’ respect. Then the novel flits between various other cases – some very personal, others showcasing the reality of his profession; the majority of his clients are guilty, many of heinous crimes. These are not nice people, and by interacting with them, Rudd is welcoming evil into his life.

The novel has an episodic design; it is split into several chunks, which feel like episodes in a season of a television drama. There is a unity to these – the novel’s climactic scenes pull together various threads into a powerful and affective conclusion – just like any finale of a TV series should do. But it is initially jarring, suggesting perhaps that Rogue Lawyer was initially conceived as a series of short stories to be read at intervals rather than in one sitting.

John Grisham flexes different muscles in Rogue Lawyer. It is packed with the legal jargon and supreme storytelling long-time readers expect; but the tension is notched to an even higher level, and his prose is starker than ever. Rogue Lawyer is a brilliantly stripped down legal thriller packed with tension and velocity.

ISBN: 9781473627321
Format: Paperback
Pages: 320
Imprint: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General Division
Publish Date: 20-Oct-2015
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Defence by Steve Cavanagh

The DefenceSteve 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.

Review: The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly

Gods-of-Guilt-AUSThe Lincoln Lawyer – the first Mickey Haller novel – was a brave change of pace for Michael Connelly, who could’ve quite easily maintained his steady annual output of the Harry Bosch series. And what a stunning debut it was, followed-up by equally stellar instalments, all of which I’ve enjoyed, but none of which have quite matched Haller’s inaugural outing. The Gods of Guilt follows that trend – another finely executed legal thriller – but unable top the original. Still, if every attempt is going to be as good as this, I’m more than happy for Connelly to keep trying, and have little doubt in his ability to succeed, and indeed exceed my expectations.

I am not a fan of ‘legal thrillers.’ I think it’s perhaps related to the fact I once wanted to be a lawyer – before I realised the work involved in becoming one, and the sheer amount of jargon I’d have to memorize, and the reality hit home that I simply don’t possess the verbal eloquence necessary to sway a jury. Maybe I’m jaded. But Connelly won we over with The Lincoln Lawyer thanks to Mickey Haller’s character and circumstances; a lawyer who works out of the back of a Lincoln is just intriguing as its own concept; when you throw in the fact he’s Harry Bosch’s half-brother, well, you couldn’t keep me away. And after that initial taste I was hooked.

Connelly paints Haller as a real person who accepts the reality of his career as a defence attorney; he frequently represents the dregs of society, but understands that he plays a necessary function in the legal system. It’s cost him, though – we learn at the beginning of The Gods of Guilt that he’s estranged from his daughter, who has effectively ‘disowned’ him. His personal life is in a bad way. Enter a new client: a cyberpimp (yeah, that’s a real thing) accused of murdering a prostitute who happens to be one of Haller’s ex-clients (and, of course, one he was particularly close to). From here Connelly weaves a convoluted tale that quickly spotlights all the players and identifies them as good and bad. Don’t expect too many surprises here (although fear not, it’s not entirely perfunctory). This is less a whodunit or thriller and more an intriguing (and indeed illuminating) exploration of the mechanics of the legal system.

It’s the ending – that final dramatic beat before the epilogue – that feels unnecessary and could’ve perhaps done with a rethink. Connelly was obviously striving for a ‘shocking’ finale (or at the very least one final major twist) but it earned only a sigh from me, and was the only true blemish on an otherwise greatly satisfying read. Highly recommended. 4/5