Tag Archives: legal thriller

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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Corruption reigns inside a high-powered legal establishment.

Big Law: A Novel, by Ron Liebman, Blue Rider Press. 272 pp. Hardcover $26.00.

Authenticity also resides in the vast amount of information about how big law came into being, how it operates, and how its excesses helped to undermine it.  9781101982990

“Big Law” is the term for those huge multi-office, multi-partner firms that operate more like investment-capital firms than arms of a justice system. They are busy leveraging access to power, borrowing from hedge funds to finance their cases, and destroying or absorbing rivals.

Carney becomes mildly suspicious when his boss tries to stay out of the information and advice loop, keeping a distance from Carney’s handling of the case as if to protect himself from any negative fallout. It is also strange that the firm chooses to represent the plaintiffs — not usually where big law makes its money.

What is Carney’s boss, Carl Smith, up to? Nothing less than taking the firm of Dunn & Sullivan public. He is plotting an IPO that will attract a spectacular amount of cash, and then plans to sell his shares and vanish. But we’ll find out, along with Carney, that Smith has much more to hide than this financial scheme.

As Carney moves more deeply into the case, he discovers a complex, nasty plot driven by greed and the desire for retribution. Clients, colleagues, victims, and the justice system itself can be sacrificed for personal gain.

Liebman rounds out Carney’s character in several ways. He sets Carney into a fully dysfunctional family for whom he feels ultimately responsible. His father is an abusive drunk and his druggy brother is a desperate loser. Both depend on Carney to straighten out their sorry lives, and he takes serious risks for them even while knowing there is little hope of them escaping such dependency.

Rob Liebman

Rob Liebman

Carney’s love relationship with a caring and talented African-American woman — also a lawyer — shows other sides of him, not all of them attractive. Liebman knows his character only too well. In fact, the editorial label for the book’s genre is roman à clef. Thus, we may read the novel as a disguised version of actual happenings and even actual people. Veiled memoir?

Liebman’s handling of dialogue is strong and well-pointed. Especially captivating is his reproduction of courtroom sparring, with its blend of accusation, innuendo, sarcasm, indirection, feigned outrage, and other verbal and performance gambits.

A high-energy legal thriller that exudes insider perspectives, Ron Liebman’s Big Law earns its authenticity in two ways. His main character and narrator, Carney Blake, is a former innocent whose need to secure his position as full-partner leads him to accept an assignment designed to put him in a vulnerable position. Carney’s transition from naïve flunky to wised-up player is accompanied by an emotional-rollercoaster ride that Liebman handles with authority. . . .

To read the entire review , please click here: Big Law: A Novel | Washington Independent Review of Books

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“Karolina’s Twins: A Novel,” by Ronald H. Balson

  • St. Martin’s Press. 320 pp. Hardcover $25.99.

An emotionally rich Holocaust thriller about long-kept secrets.

Karolina’s Twins is the third book in a trilogy (hopefully, to be a series) by Ronald H. Balson. Part legal thriller and part Holocaust narrative, the story echoes the pattern of Balson’s first novel, the highly successful Once We Were Brothers. As with the earlier book, the author risks the possible tedium of putting readers through long stretches of extremely detailed conversations in which one voice dominates. This time, it is the voice of Polish-born Lena Scheinman Woodward, a Holocaust survivor who has a complex story to tell, a promise to keep, and a secret. In her late 80s, Lena is in fine physical and mental condition; she speaks with elegance and precision.


The setting for her storytelling is primarily the law office of Catherine Lockhart, a lawyer whom Lena insists should represent her. But as much as Lena reveals to Catherine, the lawyer feels that her client is holding something back. Meanwhile, Lena’s son, Arthur, is prepared to have her declared incompetent: He fears she will squander family resources on an old obsession, and he strives to take control of the assets.

To Arthur, Lena appears obsessed and delusional. But Lena’s preoccupations stem from a promise to return to Poland and find her best friend Karolina’s twin daughters. The infant girls, traveling to a concentration camp along with Karolina and another woman, were cast out of a railroad car in order to save their lives.

The unfolding narrative, which requires many meetings, is in part shaped by Catherine’s questions. Often, Catherine’s husband, private investigator Liam Taggart, is in the room. It will be Liam’s task to verify the facts of Lena’s story — including the reliability of her memory.

So there is the story Lena tells, mostly focused on her experiences during the Holocaust, the story of the legal proceedings, and the story of the relationship between Catherine and Liam, appearing in the trilogy together, for the third time (including the second book, Saving Sophie).

The Holocaust narrative is fascinating, horrifying, and yet on the whole, uplifting. We are witness to terrible suffering via the full range of Nazi cruelty and the defiant, generous actions of a handful of individuals. It lives in the authentic details of place, especially the Scheinman family’s small town, which is occupied by Nazi forces. Balson’s historical research goes far beyond the story he was told by the woman whose life served as his main source. Moreover, he employs that research smoothly and stunningly.



Once the legal proceedings are underway, Balson is writing a courtroom drama. Arthur’s lawyer is truly nasty: a fine match for his client. The unfriendly, self-important judge threatens Catherine with contempt of court if she does not reveal information that would sacrifice attorney-client privilege. The competency hearing requires more than the display of Lena’s obvious mental and physical health. How can she prove that she is neither fabricating nor imagining seemingly far-fetched events?

To read the full review, please click here: Karolina’s Twins: A Novel | Washington Independent Review of Books

Mr. Balson will be speaking about this novel at the Collier County Jewish Book Festival on January 11 at Temple Shalom. Also on the program, which begins at 1:00pm, will be Alyson Richman, author of The Velvet Hours. Full JBF program soon available at jewishbookfestival.org.

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Two murder cases vie for attention in new “Matt Royal” mystery

Chasing Justice, by H. Terrell Griffin. Oceanview Publishing. 400 pages. Hardcover $27.95.

Call it Phil’s law. Whenever you have a mystery novel with two separate murder cases, the chances are that they will become linked in some way. Such is the situation in Mr. Griffin’s latest. A couple of murders are occupying their time and energy, though Longboat Key Police Detective J. D. (Jennifer Diane) Duncan and usually retired lawyer Matt Royal find plenty of energy for each other. ChasingJusticehigh-res

In J. D.’s professional lap is the question of why a nude, beautiful, surgically-enhanced blond named Linda Favereaux had been found with her skull crushed in her enormous, luxurious beach home. Her husband, two plus decades her senior, is nowhere to be found.

Matt has agreed to come out of retirement to defend his good friend Abby Lester, wife of the J. D’s police chief boss. She’s been accused of murdering a shady local businessman named Nate Bannister. Worse yet (though what’s worse than murder), she’s been accused of having had an affair with the man. A piece of physical evidence puts her at the scene of the crime. Abby says she had never even met Bannister.

If Abby is telling the truth, how did that evidence get there?  What’s going on?

Why is the case moving so quickly? What does it mean that the prosecuting attorney is borrowed from another jurisdiction within the state? Why has the investigation been given over to a state law enforcement agency? Why does the agent in charge seem to be so eager for this assignment?

Back to J. D.’s case: while the Favereaux couple has been living on Longboat Key for a couple of years, hardly anyone knows them. They keep to themselves. It’s obvious that they are enormously wealthy, but what is the source of that wealth?



These mysteries are like two giant piñatas with many smaller mysteries inside. J. D. has a case that leads to upper echelons of clandestine government operations. Yet it remains pretty much a straight, detective-focused murder mystery.

Matt’s story turns into a legal procedural and ultimately into a finely crafted courtroom drama. His case, too, becomes tangled up with people in high places – power players who have a lot to hide, including who really killed Nate Bannister. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the August 26, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the August 27 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Chasing Justice




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Levine’s legal hotshots team up for scintillating adventure

Bum Rap, by Paul Levine. Thomas & Mercer. 350 pages. Trade paperback $15.95.

Paul Levine has done the inevitable, bringing together the lead players from his two popular series into a slick legal thriller. Steve Solomon, partner of Victoria Lord through four previous “Solomon vs. Lord” novels, is arrested for murder. Given the nature of the case, the partners feel that Jake Lassiter (whose series boasts ten previous titles) is the man for the job as chief counsel for Steve. The interplay among the three throws off plenty of sparks, as does their frantic striving to combat the prosecution’s case.  BumRapCover

What’s going on? Steve had been hired by a gorgeous B-Girl, illegal Russian immigrant Nadia Delova, to help her obtain money she is owed by her employer, mobster Nicolai Gorev, who has also locked away Nadia’s passport. During a meeting in Gorev’s office, weapons are drawn and Gorev ends up shot to death. Steve’s fingerprints are found on the murder weapon, and gun powder traces are found on him.

In a confused panic, Steve confessed to the murder. From various perspectives, the narrative rehearses the facts as alleged by Steve and Nadia (not quite identical) and the facts as used, abused, and refused in various iterations of Jake’s proposed trial strategy. Though Jake is a stickler for the truth, he is also bent on winning every case and doing all he can for a client.

Did Steve pull the trigger accidentally? Did he pull it at all, or did the weapon simply misfire? Do these details make any difference with regard to murder charges if Steve is viewed as Nadia’s accomplice in a robbery? Can Steve change his story during the trial with any credibility?

Slowly, deliberately, and with uncanny humor, Mr. Levine uses this case to expose many slippery aspects of the legal system, including laws regarding criminal charges and sentences that seem to contradict one another.



The reader is blessed with a device that the author uses to add contextualizing background to the case: the piecemeal presentation of Nadia’s testimony in an interview with Deborah Scolino, an assistant U. S. district attorney. Scolino is investigating the Russian mafia-like enterprise that has Gorev as its front man and Benny the Jeweler as the ultimate boss.

Nadia’s testimony reveals the operations of Club Anastasia, run by the Gorev brothers, and the Q & A underscores how Nadia’s future is governed by how many charges against her will be dropped or reduced in exchange for her testimony against others, including Steve.

Illegal immigration, scamming customers who expect sexual favors while running up enormous bar bills with beautiful women, money laundering, and smuggling diamonds all figure in the enterprises under investigation. However, for Jake the case is all about proving Steve innocent. He will somehow use Nadia if he has to – she certainly has a much stronger motive than Steve Solomon – but he’d rather find another way. . . .

To enjoy the full review, as it appears in the July 1, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 2 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Bum Rap

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“Losing Faith” by Adam Mitzner

  • Gallery Books 384 pp.

This smart courtroom thriller manages to humanize the law.

Like many a top-drawer legal thriller, the fast-pacedLosing Faith is also a psychological thriller. Charged with the murder of a judge with whom he was having an affair, Aaron Littman is the only one who seems to know that he is innocent.Even though the legal details of the case, the portrayal of the give-and-take in the courtroom, and the inside look at how a major law firm operates are all handled with authority and vivid detail, it is Aaron’s emotional ride that gives the book its strongest hook and its high-powered suspense.

When the liberal judge originally assigned to the Nicolai Garkov case is found no longer competent because of advancing Alzheimer’s, Judge Faith Nichols takes over. The indictment against Russian Mafia player Garkov covers a wide range of criminal activities, most notably laundering money for a hedge fund that finances terrorists.

Garkov manipulates the hiring of Aaron as his defense attorney to fight the government charges. Why? Well, he knows that the judge whose ruling determines his fate is Aaron’s lover. Neither Aaron nor Faith would want that secret exposed, as it could be both marriage and career ending. That’s a lot of pressure. adam-mitzner

But if Faith succumbs to blackmail and acquits Garkov, she will not get the Supreme Court appointment that is otherwise a sure thing. That, too, is a lot of pressure.

Before matters unfold much further, Faith is found murdered — beaten to death. The growing body of evidence points toward Aaron, whose colleagues were not happy when he besmirched the Cromwell Alton firm’s prestigious name by linking it to Garkov.

Aaron’s colleague, mentor, and good friend, Sam Rosenthal, chooses to defend Aaron against the murder charge. Before everything explodes in Aaron’s face, he decides he’d better admit his infidelity to his lawyer and to his wife.

The emotional heart of the book involves Aaron’s attempt to redeem himself. More and more, he is forced to admit that the case against him would impress a jury. And, given his indiscretion, he is not a sympathetic character. Having his wife, Cynthia, stand by him would go a long way toward countering his negative image.

Beyond the problem of appearances, Aaron is truly contrite. He has come to value what he’d nearly thrown away. After her initial outrage, Cynthia decides to give Aaron a second chance. Mitzner’s portrayal of the ebbs and flows of this rebuilding process, which also involves their two daughters, is delicately and movingly drawn.

Waiting in the wings in case the Littman marriage fails is Aaron’s junior partner, Rachel London. She is deeply in love with him, and, though Aaron has aided her career in the firm, he has backed away from her too-obvious longings. Of course, she is a brainy babe. So was the judge. Cynthia is a looker, too.

The government’s case, presented forcefully by Victoria Donnelly, is largely circumstantial, but still compelling. Once the adversarial force has mounted its attack, the art and science of legal gamesmanship becomes a fascinating center of interest. The defense tramples on the concept of timely discovery and disclosure, but mostly gets away with it. Mitzner carefully draws the conduct and personalities of the lead attorneys, Rosenthal and Donnelly. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the Washington Independent Review of Books, click here: Losing Faith | Washington Independent Review of Books.

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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.


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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A contemporary legal thriller set against Holocaust background of betrayal and denial

Once We Were Brothers, by Ronald H. Balson. St. Martins Griffin. 378 pages. Trade paperback $15.99.

This dazzling debut by a Chicago trial attorney takes chances and manages to survive them. Told largely in the words of an eighty-three year old Holocaust survivor who has led a quiet life in Chicago, it follows Ben Solomon’s pursuit of justice. Convinced that he has discovered his boyhood friend, a man who became a Nazi soldier, Ben confronts powerful tycoon and respected philanthropist Elliot Rosenzweig and insists on bringing him to justice for crimes in Poland during WWII.  oncewewerebrothers

At a posh event at the Civic Opera House, Ben approaches the man he believes to be Otto Piatek, who was raised in the Solomon home for many years. Rosenzweig bares his concentration camp tattoo and insists that Ben is confused and that he, Elliot, is actually a Holocaust survivor. Ben, who holds an empty Luger pistol to Elliot’s head, is arrested but soon released.

Ben convinces a reluctant lawyer to explore his case. She wants to know what hard evidence he has, but Ben insists that she must hear the long, winding story of his growing up in Poland, the relationship between the Solomon and Piatek families, the effects on their lives of the Nazi rise to power, Otto’s return to his mother and father, and his re-emergence as an SS officer. The lawyer, Catherine Lockhart, once a fast-track attorney but now rebuilding her damaged career, is a hard sell. Eventually, she succumbs to Ben’s story, his dedication to his mission, and his personality.

Although taking this case leads Catherine to lose her job, it also makes her come alive: she is doing something that she believes in and that can make a difference.

One of the many chances the author takes is to present so much in one voice within a third person narration. The dialogue would seem to overwhelm other story-telling devices, the action held inside of Ben’s narration. Mr. Balson’s skill allows him to get away with this decision. He finds the right breaks in the story – breaks that the reader needs (often formal chapter divisions) and breaks occasioned by Catherine’s need to get other things done that she has let slide.

More importantly, the strength of Ben’s story is so compelling that those of us vicariously listening as Ben speaks to Catherine can barely let ourselves put the book down.



Balson has fleshed out the Poland in which his imaginary personalities lived during the rise of Hitler and the near-demise of the Nazi regime’s scapegoat population. Within the carefully researched and magnificently rendered historical setting, he has built a group of credible and highly individualized characters whose destiny is intrinsically linked to time and place.

We admire the sympathetic, caring nature of Ben’s parents, the glow of Ben’s growing love for Hannah as both of them cross from childhood to adulthood, the sturdy moral nature of Hannah’s father, the generous and courageous risk-taking of many individuals who make the survival of Ben and others possible.

We struggle to understand the strange transition of Otto from a boy who calls the Solomons his true family to a Nazi instrument of cruel dehumanization and devastation.

The story of the two boys is a microcosm for the broader story of all those times and places when and where people of different persuasions and traditions lived in harmony . . . until something corrupted their shared world.

Balson’s book is divided into three sections: “The Confrontation,” “Ben Solomon’s Story,” and “The Lawsuit.” In the final section, Liam, Catherine’s long-time good friend, turns into a major player as the legal battleground becomes one in which he and Catherine are pitted against the enormous clout of the law firm representing Otto/Elliot. As Catherine’s primary investigator on this case, Liam risks losing the big-firm clients he has attracted. However, he too is compelled by Ben’s story. Liam’s love for Catherine, slowly acknowledged and returned, becomes an even greater driving force in his decision.

In the closing section Ronald H. Balson’s legal expertise is put to excellent use. The author develops a fully engaging, meticulous picture of how the case against the celebrity philanthropist is constructed. He gives almost as much detail to the schemes and threats of Rosenzweig’s minions.

Throughout the novel, the possibility of failure is kept dangling. Perhaps Ben is deluded and has identified the wrong man. If he is on target, perhaps his team will fail. How Balson balances these possibilities against the sympathetic reader’s hopes and the progress of the intricate case is a cause for admiration.

Also to be admired is Balson’s portrait of today’s Chicago. But this review must end!

This review appears in the June 2014 issue of Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Collier County), L’Chayim (Jewish Federation of Lee and Charlotte Counties), and The Jewish News (Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee).

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Temptation, betrayal, and wished-for redemption power splendid sequel

Keep No Secrets, by Julie Compton. Fresh Fork Publishing. 344 pages. $15.95.

This powerhouse legal thriller focuses its attention somewhat less on the legal dimensions than on the tormented relationships of the main characters. Ms. Compton probes the slow disintegration of a loving relationship once questions of trust and forgiveness corrode its core. Growing out of the situations developed in the author’s debut novel, “Tell No Lies,” this new effort reintroduces St. Louis district attorney Jack Hilliard several years after his personal and professional disgrace.  Keep_No_Secrets

Jack has gone a long way toward redeeming himself. His betrayed wife, Claire, has allowed him back into the family. His past missteps have been largely forgiven by the community he strives to serve with diligence. But can he truly be trusted? Will there always be a shadow of doubt about his integrity? Can he ever totally free himself from a tainted image?

These questions become white hot when Jenny Dodson, the beautiful lawyer who had tempted him before and to whom Claire believes he has an addiction, returns to town fearing for her life and needing Jack’s help. The one night Jenny and Jack spent together provided her alibi when she was tried for murder. Jack, to his disgrace and lingering shame, saved her by honestly admitting to the indiscretion. Already losing the fight with himself by being in touch with Jenny without fully considering his obligations to Claire, Jack is caught in the emotional crossfire of divided personal and professional loyalties.

A second, but related plot line develops when Jack is accused of sexual assault by his son’s girlfriend. His relationship with his son, Michael, has been frosty ever since Jack betrayed Claire. Can Michael – can Claire – believe Jack’s innocence given his past indiscretion? Did that addiction overwhelm his good sense and self-control when he confronted a young woman bearing a striking resemblance to Jenny?

Julie Compton

Julie Compton

Can Jack sit back and trust that the legal system he knows so well will take its proper course, or must he take action that further jeopardizes his most important relationships and his sense of himself as an honorable man?

As Julie Compton skillfully advances her plot, the possible answers to such questions turn over and over. The novel becomes at once a morality play, psychological drama, and legal puzzle. Difficult to classify, Keep No Secrets is very easy to like. It’s a true page-turner in which the stakes are high on several levels. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the April 17, 2013 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly, the April 25 Naples edition, and the June 6 Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Compton 1 and Florida Weekly – Compton 2

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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.


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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