The Local by Joey Hartstone

The LocalThe Local by Joey Hartstone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really liked this book and recommend it. Although this is his first novel, the author is a professional writer (screenplays for movies and TV) and it shows. The plot is suspense-filled, with twists and turns, and he does an excellent job of painting a scene of the east Texas legal scene. As a lawyer and FBI agent who worked in the intellectual property (IP) field, I was impressed with the depth of his research. The basic setup is that the main character, James Euchre, is a patent attorney who serves as the local counsel for patent law firms coming here from out of state. He is representing a client, Amin, who loses a ruling and screams threats in the courtroom. Then the judge who presided is murdered. Amin is charged with the murder and Euchre must represent him even though he’s never been a criminal attorney. Okay, that’s far-fetched. A good-looking female attorney, Layla, formerly a prosecutor, is seconded to the case to help him since it’s a capital case. To add a twist, the victim judge was a dear personal friend and mentor to Euchre. Euchre wants to find the killer, even if it is his own client, so he has in mind that he will screw Amin if he finds out he’s guilty. It is up to him and his quirky investigator, “the Leg,” to find out whodunit.

For a non-lawyer the author got the vast majority of the legal stuff right, like the feds deferring to Texas in order to go for the death penalty, and most of what wasn’t right was probably due to literary license. He lists a slew of lawyers in the acknowledgments section. However I feel compelled to set the record straight on a few issues. There is no FBI lab in Dallas. The only FBI lab is in Quantico, VA. It does assist local cases like this on request, but it is much more likely a local department would use a state lab for several reasons. This trial would surely be moved from the local area; it it wasn’t, any conviction would be overturned on appeal.

Another reason I can’t boost this to five stars is that the characters aren’t very likeable. Amin is a jerk. Euchre is a dissolute hothead. He claims to be a non-smoker but chain smokes Marlboros and throws the butts out on the roadway or sidewalk. He drinks heavily and is obviously impaired from hangovers running up to trial. At trial he cuts down to three stiff drinks a night as though that’s virtuous. He’s sarcastic and insulting to half the people he deals with. I’ve never really understood why authors like to make their lead characters flawed, but I guess it goes back at least to Sherlock Holmes and seems to be popular with some readers. Layla is inserted as a token black and female who should be lead counsel with her experience, but does almost nothing but provide a love interest. The Leg is the only somewhat likeable character, although she also seems like a token lesbian who ultimately doesn’t have much effect on the final resolution. The plot strains credibility even more toward the end, but I found it compelling enough to really enjoy it.

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