Monday, July 27, 2020


FIFTY FIFTY by Steve Cavanagh (Orion, 2020)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Alexandra Avellino has just found her father's mutilated body, and needs the police right away. She believes her sister killed him, and that she is still in the house with a knife.

Sofia Avellino has just found her father's mutilated body and needs the police right away. She believes her sister, Alexandra did it, and that she is still in the house, locked in the bathroom.

Both women are to go on trial at the same time. A joint trial in front of one jury. But one of these women is lying. One of them is a murderer. Sitting in a jail cell, about to go on trial with her sister for murder, you might think that this is the last place she expected to be. You'd be wrong.

Five years ago Belfast lawyer Steve Cavanagh published his first novel, THE DEFENCE, an excellent legal thriller set in New York City and introducing con man turned defense attorney Eddie Flynn. It was a great debut, and it kickstarted what has grown into one of the very best ongoing series to be added to the crime writing canon in recent years.

Cavanagh certainly knows how to tell a hell of a story. After delivering an intriguing standalone last year, TWISTED, he's now returned for the fifth time to his main character Eddie Flynn, the battered but honorable lawyer trying to find some measure of justice within a system that isn't always just.

Once again, Cavanagh sets an appetising hook. Two sisters on trial for the brutal killing of their father, the former mayor of New York City. Each accuses the other of the horrific crime; the prosecution just wants someone to pay. Can Eddie Flynn save the innocent sister?

And once again Cavanagh delivers depth and thrills beyond his high-concept hook, zooming past 'great beach read' and adding further layers and depth to a storyline ripe for twists. Cavanagh delivers great twists without being reliant upon them. He also has a terrific touch for in-court ingtrigue and out-of-court action, for providing plenty of emotional oomph to the stakes his characters face.

Overall Cavanagh brings some zing and real freshness to a sub-genre of crime writing (legal thrillers) that can at times be circumscribed by the binary 'guilty or not guilty' outcome of most criminal trials. In FIFTY FIFTY he continues the evolution of a superb main character in Eddie Flynn, delivers a compelling storyline that keeps the pages whirring, fills out the cast with plenty of fascinating characters beyond the lead, and places it all among a well-evoked New York legal setting.

Another great instalment in an outstanding series.

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer from New Zealand, now living in London. In recent years he’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at books festivals on three continents. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards and co-founder of Rotorua Noir. You can heckle him on Twitter. 

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