Wednesday, April 15, 2009

“The Common Lawyer”, by Mark Gimenez (Sphere)


A laid-back lawyer, a job too good to be true, and a desperate father. A recipe for trouble…

Andy Prescott deals with traffic tickets, and is perhaps the most laid-back lawyer in Texas. For $100, he’ll get you off any ticket. If he can’t, he’ll pay your fine. He’s never had to pay a fine. Andy lives in Austin, in the SoCo region south of the river – it’s hip, bohemian, grunge-chic, and not rich. His life seems idyllic – trail-biking, hanging with his friends at Guero’s, and checking out all the beautiful women. Not a care in the world, he lives for the adrenaline rush he gets from riding, and works just to pay the bills.

Then Russell Reeves, Austin’s resident billionaire philanthropist, steps into Andy’s office (just a room above a tattoo parlor), and offers him a job on retainer that seems too good to be true; offering more money than Andy’s ever seen, for some very easy legal work. Andy’s life starts to change in ways that would make anyone happy – money, women, a new loft in downtown Austin, the trail bike of his dreams, and still not a care in the world (except an objection to the higher taxes).

But, Reeves’s only son, Zach, is dying of a rare strain of leukemia. The billionaire is a desperate man, pouring billions into the search for a cure, but so far has come up empty. A break might have surfaced in his search to save his son, and Reeves will do anything and pay any price to pursue this miracle cure, even if it skirts the borders of legality, or if it puts Andy’s life in danger.

The Common Lawyer is a great novel, but it does not follow the usual path of a page-turning thriller. For a start, the ‘thriller’ elements don’t really kick in for about 90 pages. The brief prologue aside, the bulk of the first third reads like a guidebook to Austin – far from being boring, however, it is clear that the author has great affection for the city, and it helps to set the scene and the mood of his story’s location (not to mention make you want to relocate there).

The pacing for the story is good, but it is not lightning-fast like James Patterson’s novels. Like John Grisham, Gimenez allows the story to build gently, increasing the tension at a more natural pace, slowly revealing pieces of the overall story to draw the reader in. Unlike many authors, Gimenez is not afraid of describing scenes – often, thriller authors can come across allergic to any exposition, which helps the pace of a novel, but can sometimes make them seem incomplete. The Common Lawyer does not suffer from this, though some people might not be happy that it takes a while to get going.

Gimenez’s writing is very clear, well paced and plotted. You almost don’t notice that nothing much has happened to begin with, as you are drawn along by the narrative and Gimenez’s prose. The author manages to include some social commentary about wealth and how it changes us and life, as well as comments about Texas gun-law and -culture. It’s clear the author’s not fond of some of the things money can do, but the novel never becomes preachy, and is peppered with funny asides. Overall, the plot is interesting, raises plenty of moral and ethical questions about how far people are willing to go to save a loved one.

At first, I must admit to not being entirely taken with Andy. For the first couple of chapters, he came across like a smart-ass frat boy, almost too cool with his fist-pounds and “dude” utterances (ironic given he is supposed to have never bothered with fraternities at college). When we meet his family and friends, however, we realise he is more than just a lonely 29-year old, living in a city of beautiful women, but a conscientious member of the SoCo community. He really grows on you, as the novel progresses. Reeves, on the other hand, is difficult to dislike from the get-go. Incredibly generous, but also a desperate father, his actions and rationalisations may not be entirely moral or ethical, but they are certainly understandable, and often admirable, so it’s difficult to root against him.

The Common Lawyer is an addictive, compulsive read. With an interesting, flawed protagonist who matures as the novel progresses, a cast of well-drawn and diverse characters, and a great plot (not to mention the unexpected twist at the end), this is a must-read novel.

Highly recommended, The Common Lawyer will keep you reading into the night.

By the same author: The Colour of Law (2006), The Abduction (2007), The Perk (2008)

For fans of: John Grisham, Scott Turow, Richard North Patterson, James Sheehan, David Ellis, John Hart

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