Tag Archives: courtroom drama

Solving a crime in The Villages is no walk in the park

Vindication, by H. Terrell Griffin. Oceanview Publishing. 320 pages. Hardcover $26.95.

Mr. Griffin’s Matt Royal novels have formed a reliable, suspenseful, and neatly crafted mystery series since they began to appear over a decade ago.  

When Matt’s police detective girlfriend, J. D. Duncan, asks him to sign on as her Aunt Esther’s lawyer, Matt reluctantly adjusts his beach idler persona and sharpens his legal mindset. The case against Esther, who has been thrown in jail, is a strong one. Her fingerprints are on her gun and its bullets, and her gun expelled the bullet that killed the victim, a first-time bestselling author.

Aunt Esther’s motive is, according to the prosecution, grounded in her notion, perhaps delusional, that the manuscript of the best-selling novel was stolen from her. However, the evidence that Esther had the skills to write such a manuscript is lacking.

To help move the case forward. J. D. gets time off from her Longboat Key work in order to go undercover in Esther’s community – the senior mecca called The Villages in North Central Florida. She does much of the leg-work that the case needs while Matt develops a defense strategy.

Much of the enjoyment of this novel comes from Matt’s careful, dogged preparation, his professional rapport with the prosecuting attorney and the judge, and the discoveries that J. D. makes. Once the courtroom scenes begin, Mr. Griffin’s mastery of this material turns Vindication into a red hot legal thriller.

The fact that he is threatened to drop the case leads to background information about decades-old issues that might provide others with a motive to murder the novelist. How long can one carry a grudge about being unfairly treated in a Miss Georgia beauty contest? Cloaked identities slowly unravel, leading to a sure-handed dénouement.

The action keeps Matt moving back and forth between The Villages and Longboat Key. Followers of Mr. Griffin’s work will enjoy the comfortable, familiar rendering of the Longboat Key environment: the relaxed, supportive friendships; the good spirits and pleasant hangouts; and the seaside’s natural beauty.

Mr. Griffin’s treatment of The Villages lacks the usual sarcasm that taints other attempts at capturing this highly successful retirement community for seniors. His is a respectful understanding of what makes The Villages tick.

Always delightful is the loving, teasing relationship between Matt and J. D. Mr. Griffin makes it abundantly clear how perfectly these intelligent, capable individuals are for each other. They have found their soulmates, and they are just too smart and too caring to take their good luck for granted. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the February 22, 2018  Naples Florida Weekly, the March 21 Fort Myers edition, and the March 22 Charlotte County edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Vindication

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Insider view deepens legal thriller’s insights

Blame, by Linda Rocker. Wheatmark. 286 pages. Trade paperback $14.95.

Linda Rocker’s new novel follows Punishment (2012) and precedes Innocence, which will conclude her trilogy. This simply-named novel is also well named. One thing readers learn from the book is that many are blamed but few are guilty. The rush to blame a person or persons for an unpleasant occurrence  comes more out of emotional need than from any reasonable assessment of motive and evidence.  BLAMEFrontCover

When Jeffrey Klauser takes his own life, shortly before his wedding day, the young man is not allowed to be thought accountable for his actions. Something or someone must have driven him to this desperate end. Should we blame the girlfriend who exhibited hesitation about marrying a drug addict? The doctor who may have overprescribed medication for pain? The parents who failed to take his problems seriously?

The actors in the legal system will frame the issue so a verdict allows for the transition from blame to guilt, both a moral and a societal label.

Ms. Rocker, from her many years of trial experience as a litigator and judge, allows us a close-up examination of the system, including the strengths and frailties of those charged with making it work. A trial is many different things to the many people involved.

To prosecutor and State’s Attorney Charlie Graham, it is the step to public adoration that will win him a judgeship, perhaps the held by Janet Kanterman, whom he will try to discredit through his manipulation of the case brought against Dr. Neil Hammer – the pain specialist. To Mrs. Klauser, the suicide’s mother and the driving force behind this case, it is about blame and revenge. Mrs. Klauser’s need is interpreted by the narrator as resulting from her buried guilt over her poor parenting.

Inside of the courtroom drama, which focuses in part on the overreaching of Charlie Graham, are several other story lines. One of these follows the romance between Casey Portman, Judge Kanterman’s bailiff, and the much older but thoroughly attractive Sheriff Luke Anderson. Missed signals in communication and expectation have led to a major rupture in their relationship.

Linda Rocker - photo by Randi Rosen

Linda Rocker – photo by Randi Rosen

Casey is angry and despondent, and things get much worse when she is attacked – raped and severely beaten – by a mob hit man who was just after his twisted kind of fun. The man was actually in the courthouse following a totally separate case from that of the pain doctor trial. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the November 27, 3014 Naples Florida Weekly, the December 3 Fort Myers edtion, and the December 4 Bonita Springs and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte edition, click here  Florida Weekly – Blame

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Guilt is palpable in latest Lincoln Lawyer mystery

The Gods of Guilt, by Michael Connelly. Grand Central. 416 pages. Trade paperback $15.00. Readers who missed the late 2013 hardcover release of this fine addition to the Lincoln Lawyer series can now enjoy the paperback. Before this novel opens, Mickey’s career and personal life have been shattered by poor judgment and worse luck. His reduced circumstances and his fractured relationship with his teenage daughter have left him drinking too much, spying on her from afar, and seeking redemption – as well as paying clients. Now, an internet whiz PR man (read “pimp”) who pays in gold bricks has been charged with the murder of one of his clients.  ConnellyPhoto

The murdered woman was a prostitute whom Mickey had cared about and tried to help leave “the life.” The accused, Andre La Cosse, is wasting away in jail while Mickey prepares for his trial. The trial is the book’s heart, along with all the attendant planning and leg work.

You might guess that a man who runs his business from inside of his Lincoln Town Car would not be disposed to pay big rental fees for office space. For Mickey, having access to a spacious, unrented loft in a largely vacant high rise does the trick. His team meetings are delightfully breezy, yet businesslike too. The key support staff consists of one ex-wife (this one is not is daughter’s mother), her muscular husband, a bright and beautiful young woman lawyer who is eager for criminal law action, and the loyal Lincoln driver.

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Mr. Connelly‘s descriptions of their interaction is magnificent, the dialogue revealing a group of memorable characters and infectious team spirit. As Mickey questions them, gathers and processes their opinions, and gives them assignments, readers get to see the shared thinking and the decision-making that leads to the defense strategy.

It’s a strategy that will have several twists and turns. Within his description of the courtroom building, its hallways, and the courtroom itself, the author provides an authentic portrait of legal procedure. Mickey’s goals include making facts from another case relevant in this one, having evidence of various kinds accepted into the record, having subpoenas served on witnesses, countering objections from the prosecuting attorney, and developing a positive courtroom relationship with the presiding judge.

Another lawyerly technique involves influencing time management in favor of his case, which means manipulating the timing of lunch recesses or adjournment. On what note does Mickey want the jury members to leave the courtroom for their individual deliberations? Speaking of jurors, Mickey has effectively worked – through eye contact and body language – to forge a positive relationship with a juror whom he feels will be committed to his view and represent it in the jury room. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the July 23, 2014 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 24 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Gods of Guilt

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Punishment is a pleasure in debut legal thriller

Punishment, by Linda Rocker. Wheatmark. 248 pages. $18.95 trade paper; $4.61 Kindle e-book.

Retired judge Linda Rocker has set her first novel in West Palm Beach, taking us into the courthouse in significant architectural detail. Hallways, stairways, parking areas, judges’ chambers, courtrooms, and other related locations are handled with authority. So are the workings of the courthouse: trial procedure from jury selection on through the interaction between judges and other court personnel, bailiffs in particular. In fact, the primary character among many important ones is Casey Portman, bailiff to Judge Janet Kanterman. Punishment_BookCover

One plot concern has to do with an explosion in the courthouse that, while doing little damage, stirs things up and puts everyone on edge. The threat of a follow-up to this assault on the system lingers in the background. Who is behind it? What is the motive?

The main plot is the sensational trial of a man charged with using his trained attack dog as a deadly weapon in the murder of his wife. As Casey and Judge Kanterman prepare for and move into the proceedings, readers learn that the deceased women’s father is attending all phases of the trial. Doubtful that justice will prevail, he is prepared to take justice into his own hands. Thus, another plot thread is developed that takes us into the mind and actions of this tragically suffering man who is obsessed with vengeance.

When Judge Kanterman becomes too ill to preside over this trial, her colleague Judge Barbara Clarke receives the assignment. There are hints that someone may have poisoned the liberal Kanterman to get her off the bench for this trial. Clarke’s busy schedule will become even more hectic.

Things are already difficult in Judge Clarke’s office. Ben, her bailiff has been acting quite strangely, and his friend Casey is aware of it too. Shockingly, Ben is murdered. Is this courthouse doomed to violence? Casey, up to speed on the “Dogicide” case, takes Ben’s place working with Judge Clarke.

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Things are not well in Clarke’s home life, either. Her scoundrel of a husband, Ellison Watson, is not only cheating on her but is mixed up in illegal drug activities. These involve not only a shadowy figure named Jack McGinty, but also the murdered bailiff.

To add to the complications, a relative of McGinty’s makes it onto the jury. This young woman somehow gets away with texting the proceedings to Jack. Why does he need to know the details of this trial?

The final plot line is the romantic one: Casey slides into an affair with police chief Luke Anderson. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the February 21, 2013 issue of the Naples Florida Weekly and the March 14 Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter edition click here: Florida Weekly – Linda Rocker

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