Flesh & Bones
By Paul Levine

Avon Paperback (337 pages, $5.99)

Reviewed by Anthony Smith (4/98)

This is a Jake Lassiter mystery, the latest in Levine's series. I haven't read any of the earlier ones, so I went into this one fresh, without any preconceptions about the character. I'm generally a fan of crime novels set in Florida, which this is, so I was interested in seeing how Levine's treatment of the setting.

He has a great opening. Try this: "I was sitting at the end of the bar sipping single-malt Scotch--eighteen-year-old Glenmorangie at nine bucks a shot--when I spotted the tall blond woman with the large green eyes and the small gray gun."

After that, it's a wild ride. Whether or not that's a good thing depends on the reader. Some might climb off at the end complaining of whiplash, while others eagerly ask for another spin. Count me among those in between. This is a very fast paced legal thriller that reads like a detective novel, since Jake Lassiter is a defense attorney who really gets involved with his cases, quite like Perry Mason, but as an action hero. Jake was a former pro football player whose injuries eventually led him to quit the game. However, these injuries do not preclude him from all sorts of action and violence (and physical pain) endured in the course of a case. Jake is the narrator of the story, and comes across with a hard-boiled, although modern day and liberal, sensibility.

My problem with Jake Lassiter is in this familiar way of narrating the story from the first person, with a type of "moral superiority" complex he exhibits to his friends, clients, even folks he doesn't like much. He makes a point to comment when people tell sexist jokes around him ("Sometimes, Rusty, I think your emotional intelligence stopped at about age twenty-two," Jake tells a friend after a lewd joke.) He tries to be the perfect guy--rugged, manly, as well as compassionate and mildly politically correct (he eats meat and gets drunk still, but he has a secretary to point those faults out to him). That type of narration bothers me, not because those traits aren't admirable, but rather because someone who exhibits them as Jake does seems very unreal and arrogant, too heroic.

Did this interfere with the story being told? For me, yes. In the first chapter, a beautiful model walks into the bar where Jake happens to be, pulls out a gun and shoots her estranged father. Before the third shot, Jake rushes over, slaps the gun away, and catches the woman as she faints. The father dies as a result of the shots. Jake decides to defend the model. This, to me, doesn't seem to be a good idea. Jake watched her shoot her dad. He died. She's guilty of murder, right?

Of course not. That's just chapter one. And it becomes more complicated as the novel continues winding it's way to find out what led the model, Chrissy Bernhardt, to shoot her father. I am not very happy with the ending, as I don't think the suspense created is appropriately brought to a satisfying close.

But Levine is a good writer, sentence-by-sentence. I thought some of it was amusing, fun to read, if not taken seriously. It did have the Florida setting going for it, which always helps.If you are a Jake Lassiter fan, stick with him. You'll probably love it. If, like me, you've never read him, it's one you might want to keep in mind if looking for a fast paced series about a lawyer who acts like a private eye.

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