Monday, February 12, 2018


THIRTEEN by Steve Cavanagh (Orion, 2018)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

They were Hollywood's hottest power couple. They had the world at their feet. Now one of them is dead and Hollywood star Robert Solomon is charged with the brutal murder of his beautiful wife.

This is the celebrity murder trial of the century and the defence want one man on their team: con artist turned lawyer Eddie Flynn. All the evidence points to Robert's guilt, but as the trial begins a series of sinister incidents in the court room start to raise doubts in Eddie's mind.

What if there's more than one actor in the courtroom? What if the killer isn't on trial? What if the killer is on the jury?

In less than three years, Irish author Steve Cavanagh has gone from promising new-kid-on-the-legal-thriller-block to an absolute standout, "read whatever he puts out" crime writer. In baseball parlance (Cavanagh's books are set in the States, after all), he's developed from talented rookie to a perennial All-Star, delivering at a high level year after year.

His fourth legal thriller, THIRTEEN, has a compulsive hook: a serial killer finagles himself onto the jury for a high-profile celebrity murder trial. But why, to what end? It's a delicious set-up, but the fantastic thing about Cavanagh's latest Eddie Flynn tale is that THIRTEEN delivers so much more than just a high-concept premise that makes for a cool hashtag or marketing campaign.

There's a propulsive narrative drive (I read it in one sitting), plenty of action and intrigue inside and outside of the courtroom, and further development of the character of Eddie Flynn. A hustler and con man turned lawyer who's apt to use a few tricks, Eddie still retains a sense of honour and justice - even if it gets battered at times, ground down by the road roller of the criminal justice system.

In THIRTEEN, Eddie is faced with every defense lawyer's worst nightmare: a client his gut tells him is innocent of the brutal crime, even if the facts all point to guilt. Is Eddie good enough to overcome the odds? Or has his celebrity client used his Hollywood skills to pull the wool over Eddie's eyes?

Cavanagh takes the reader on a merry dance, switching between Eddie's perspective and that of the killer on the jury. It's a chess match that Eddie doesn't even know he's playing, even as he battles against the prosecution's very strong case while juggling the ways his own life outside the courtroom is teetering on a precipice. Eddie knows his life needs to change, and puts it all on the line for a shot at reclaiming his family, but is it  enough? Has he unwittingly put himself in the firing line again, the very thing that's stopped his previous attempts at reconciliation with his wife and daughter?

THIRTEEN is the kind of book where Cavanagh keeps the needle high and his foot to the floor, while delivering plenty of oomph throughout the ride. He brings the New York courtroom setting to vivid life,  taking readers into the inner workings of the jury system while keeping a nice balance and never overwhelming with legal details. There's a host of strong characters, returning and new, conflicts that feel authentic and organic rather than author-hand-forced, and plenty of action to get the heart racing as our brains wonder just how things might unfold. A terrific read that delivers on multiple levels.

Steve Cavanagh and Eddie Flynn just might be the best tandem to hit the courtroom crime scene since Michael Connelly introduced 'Lincoln lawyer' Mickey Haller to the world over a decade ago.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for newspapers and magazines in several countries. In recent years he has interviewed 200 crime writers, discussed the genre onstage at books festivals on three continents, and on national radio and popular podcasts, and has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize, and is the founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can heckle him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

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