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THE DEFENSE
By D.W. Buffa

Fawcett, $6.99, (310 pp.)

Reviewed by Anthony Smith

An ex-lawyer writes his first novel, a legal thriller. What an original idea! I've seen so many of these, all seemingly based on an interesting real case the lawyer might have had, but twisted into high-plot heaven. This time, I'm not sure on the reality of Buffa's novel, but I did find myself surprised by it. It's a good story overall, despite shortcomings in the writing.

Let's deal with the shortcomings first. This is clunky writing: awful descriptions, wooden and dull dialogue, overwrought reactions (and the persistent habit of using "!?" to punctuate questions spoken by characters who are angry or excited). And the structure was unusual. Halfway through, I realized that the time span of the story was a decade. When I first realized it covered several years, it was fine, and even interesting. It becomes a problem later on in the book when the plot heats up. I had a problem with using such a long period of time, picking and choosing appropriately related moments for the story and leaving the rest out. We're talking ten years! It seems as if this is the only thing that matters in ten years of passed time. For that, it seems convoluted.

But here's what makes it a good book. I was always interested in the leading characters: the protagonist, Joseph Antonelli, a rich and famous defense lawyer who never loses, is asked to take a case that will, of course, "change his life;" the judge who gives him the case, Leopold Rifkin; and their mutual friend, D.A. Horace Woolner. I liked the relationship these guys had, and even though the dialogue seemed unrealistic, I enjoyed eavesdropping on their conversations.

More than that, the story was narrated by Joseph Antonelli himself, a first person telling almost like a memoir. If it would have been a little broader minded that way, the plot problems might have disappeared. A character study of Antonelli alone would be worth a whole book. But there's a serious underlying series of connective plot points here that lean this into "thriller country," which is a shame. It's not much of a thriller--instead more of a classic Perry Mason type mystery to me. Not loud and bombastic or throwing Antonelli into mortal danger over a case. That's fine. I prefer that in my law mysteries, actually.

The Defense is a nice book, then. Law genre fans should read it for a taste of something different. And people who aren't so big on law mysteries (which, according to Grisham sales figures, includes FOUR PEOPLE) might enjoy it as well, since the voice of Antonelli makes for a compelling character.


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