April 9, 2009

Review: The Tenth Case, by Joseph Teller



This book was sent to me for review by the ever-patient TJ at Planned TV Arts, so long ago that I am frankly embarrassed just to remember when it was, never mind to actually tell you. The fact that I'm reviewing an ARC and the book has been out on shelves since last October may be trusted to speak for itself. And of course, I'm now kicking myself for not reading it sooner, not only because I received it in the good faith that I'd get to it in some semblance of good time, but because it's really, really good, and I could have enjoyed it ages ago.

Here's the back cover:
Criminal defense attorney Harrison J. Walker, better known as Jaywalker, has just been suspended for using "creative" tactics and receiving "gratitude" in the courtroom stairwell from a client charged with prostitution. Convincing the judge that his other clients are counting on him, Jaywalker is allowed to complete ten cases. But it's the last case that trule tests his abilities -- and his acquittal record.

Samara Moss -- young, petite and sexy as hell -- stabbed her husband in the heart. Or so everyone believes. Having married the elderly billionaire when she was an eighteen-year-old former prostitute, Samara appears to be the cliched gold digger. But Jaywalker knows all too well that appearances can be deceiving. Who else could have killed the billionaire? Has Samara been framed? Or is Jaywalker just driven by his need to win his clients' cases -- and this particular client's undying gratitude?

So there's the basic setup. Jaywalker is working with an over-90% acquittal rate, when he is hired to defend Samara Moss Tannenbaum, who has been charged with his murder. But it's not the first time that they've met: Jaywalker defended Samara over a traffic charge six years ago, and he's been smitten ever since. He is determined to win her case, not just for the sake of his own record, but in the hopes of winning Samara as well. The trouble is, the evidence against her is air-tight: she was alone with her husband the night he died, was heard arguing with him, initially lied to police investigating the case, and to top it all, a bloody steak-knife was found hidden in her apartment. Samara insists that she's innocent, and Jaywalker has little choice but to believe her.

This is the first installement of a planned series of books by Joseph Teller, himself a former criminal defense attorney. This novel, at least, is fairly heavy on the exposition: a lot of pages are taken up with explaining the ins and outs of the legal system in New York, at least so far as that system relates to Jaywalker's last case. It doesn't interfere with the story -- indeed, I found it interesting -- but I do wonder as to how that will be handled in future books, when the reading audience might be presumed to need less explanation as the plots move along. The exposition didn't get in the way in The Tenth Case, but I can easily see how it could eventually get wearisome.

The other thing in this book that I found intriguing in terms of the writing is the question of who, exactly, is narrating? It appears to be a limited-omnicient third person narrator -- that is to say, the narration is in the third person, and the narrator has full access to the protagonist's thoughts, but no access to anyone else's. But the narrator is clearly outside of Jaywalker, which is slightly more unusual, and he(?) often breaks the fourth wall to talk about something that Jaywalker is doing, or about certain points of law or trial procedure that may not be clear to lay readers. There's a certain amount of comments along the lines of "Wasn't it strange that Jaywalker was doing such-and-such? Actually no, because blah-de-blah..." and the feel is a bit as if Teller is explaining the law to the reader, with Jaywalker's story sort of thrown in as an illustration of how things work. It's an interesting dynamic -- again, not intrusive, but unusual -- and I look forward to seeing how it changes (or doesn't) in subsequent books.

As to the story itself -- the plot, I mean -- it's well-written, enjoyable, and well-plotted. It's primarily a legal drama, so there are relatively few gruesome details to deal with. And the ending is rather deliciously ambiguous, which is sometimes the way I like my murder mysteries. Highly recommended.

3 comments:

glumpuddle said...

Herm. Not sure I liked this enough to buy and read others in the series. Found it a bit pedantic at times as you noted. A bit weird in the POV as noted. And I didn't like the character enough. Weird thing with the name. Nope. Interesting enough plot, ambiguous ending, but meh. 3 from me. If you care of course ;-)

Christine said...

I don't know if I'd buy them either -- this came free after all, and I'm pretty choosy about what I actually spend money on -- but I'd probably grab them from the library. I'll be sure to let you know, if so, if/how they improve.

zibilee said...

Loved this review! It sounds like a really interesting book.

zibilee’s latest blog post:Following the Whispers - Creating a life of inner peace and acceptance from the depths of despair by Karen Walker - 172 pgs