Short Takes

Short Takes: Book reviews, in brief

January 19, 2013 

Fiction

The Lawyer’s Lawyer

James Sheehan, Center Street, 416 pages

“The Lawyer’s Lawyer” follows James Sheehan’s first two courtroom thrillers, “The Mayor of Lexington Avenue” and “The Law of Second Chances.” All three chronicle the exploits of Jack Tobin. A flawed but likable protagonist known as one of the best lawyers in Florida, Tobin has a propensity for getting tangled in the kudzu of complicated criminal cases in steamy backwoods crawling with crooked lawyers, shady cops and slimy public officials.

Tobin has retired from the practice of corporate litigation in South Florida a fabulously wealthy man, free to laze around fictional Bass Creek with his pal and investigator, Henry, whom Tobin saved from Florida’s death chamber. There isn’t anything Henry wouldn’t do for Tobin, who specializes in defending the wrongfully accused. His fictional evocation of two horrific sieges in Florida college towns – murders committed by serial killers Ted Bundy in Tallahassee in the late 1970s and Danny Rolling in Gainesville in the 1990s – may be difficult for some readers to take. But Sheehan, who teaches trial law, does a fine job of depicting both the surreal nightmare of such an event and the inexorable pressure on law enforcement to arrest those responsible at any and all costs.

Tampa Bay Times

Fiction

American Tropic

Thomas Sanchez, Knopf, 206 pages

There appears to be a new subspecies of the genre novel in the making: the eco-thriller. “American Tropic,” Thomas Sanchez’s first novel in nearly a decade, puts him squarely in this group.

Someone has revived the ghastly figure of Bizango, a serial murderer in a skeleton suit who first appeared in Sanchez’s 1990 novel “Mile Zero,” terrorizing the island until hunted down and killed. This new Bizango has taken it upon himself to murder those who would despoil the environment. The police find the victims pinned with spears to radio towers and ships, their ears sliced off, their mouths stuffed with micro-digital recordings with messages to the authorities from the killer about the despoiling of the environment.

A police detective named Luz takes on the case with her own particular sense of vengeance. (It was her father, himself a Key West cop, who brought down the original Bizango.) But as violent as these murders may be, and Sanchez makes them as bizarre as Bizango himself, nothing jars like Captain Pat slicing off the dorsal fin of a live dolphin to use as bait to catch a sea turtle, hooking and netting a turtle, and then murdering it with a hammer that “penetrates deep into the turtle’s skull with a bone-shattering blow.” The mate throws up. I nearly did. And because of such violence, this neatly plotted book with an exotic setting rises to the level of ferocious dramatic polemic against some of the worst crimes against nature – and, by extension, humanity.

San Francisco Chronicle

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