Pub Day Repost: Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh: Eddie Flynn, a Serial Killer and a “Trial of the Century”

ThirteenThirteen

by Steve Cavanagh
Series: Eddie Flynn, #4
eARC, 336 pg.
Flatiron Books, 2019

Read: July 26 – 29, 2019

I wanted this posted a day ago, but just a couple hours after finishing it, I wasn’t capable of discussing it in a meaningful way—unless you consider gibberish with intermittent “squee”s and a lot of exclamation points meaningful (and, I suppose it is, in a fashion). I think I’m a bit better now, but I’m still having a hard time organizing my thoughts. I’ve discussed each of the prior Eddie Flynn books in the last couple of years here—and each one has been a little better than its predecessor. This is no exception—but I’m not sure if Eddie Flynn #5 will be able to top this one (equalling it will prove difficult enough).

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Before he’s had time to fully absorb—much less react to—some devastating personal news, Eddie Flynn is approached by one of the biggest, flashiest, best-known defense attorneys in New York to be his second chair in an upcoming murder trial. He’s not interested, at all—even after the money on the table is mentioned. But he eventually agrees to meet with the accused to decide if he believes in the client’s claims of innocence.

Robert (Bobby) Solomon is an actor on the verge of super-stardom. He’s one-half of a Hollywood power-couple with a reality show and a couple of movies together that are responsible for this status. He also stands accused of killing his wife and their security chief after finding them in bed. Eddie believes him and signs on. The media (social and otherwise) is abuzz with the killings and is circulating plenty of rumors, innuendoes and speculation about Bobby and his wife at this time, as they cover “The Trial of the Century.”

The prosecution’s case is almost overwhelmingly strong, but with some creative thinking, Eddie and his investigator dive into the case, coming up with a strategy for his defense—including ways to attack the prosecution’s case. His investigator is the FBI Agent Harper from The Liar, who has since quit the Bureau and is doing PI and security work with her former partner (this was a great move by Cavanagh, she’s the best character from that book not named Flynn).

Still, that’s a daunting target and an almost impossible feat. But what makes it worse? The actual killer—a serial killer, mind you—is on the jury and is committed to getting a guilty verdict. What a great hook, right?

It is hard, almost impossible, to give readers a serial killer as unique as this one. He’s not as charming or intelligent as Dr. Lecter (but close on the latter), he’s not as obviously sick and twisted as most fictional serial killers. There’s not a trace of sexual sadism or anything like that to his modus operandi (which is not to say there’s none in his past). He’s smart, he’s careful, he’s strategic and committed to his vision. He’s got some natural gifts that help him—and an ally that assists him (a non-lone wolf serial killer, I don’t know if I’ve seen that before).

What separates this killer from the rest is the motivation behind his killings and victim selection (and how he makes them a victim). Yes, he’s clearly mentally ill—psychopathic/sociopathic tendencies (if he’s not diagnosable with either), and he enjoys his work. But there’s an ethos, an ideology behind his work. He’s got a message for the world, a lesson he’s trying to teach people. Everything he does is toward this goal, toward living out this ethos. I absolutely loved this, and the more Cavanagh showed this was behind the killing (and eventually, killings), the more we saw of the motivation, the more I liked it (and the more impressed I was with the creation of this killer).

I want to go on a few more paragraphs about him, but I can’t without spoiling everything—so let me stress this is a great, and unique, serial killer.

While dealing with this case, Eddie also has some family problems he’s trying to address, and there are some NYPD cops out for him after embarrassing a detective on the witness stand. Eddie spends more time in danger from members of the NYPD than he does from the killer.

Harry, of course, is back—which is great. He’s more involved in this case than he has been since the first book, The Defense. He’s a judge, Eddie’s former mentor and current self-appointed guardian of Eddie’s alcohol intake. He’s a great friend and ally for Eddie. We also see the return of Arnold Novoselic, the jury consultant that caused so much trouble for Eddie in The Defense, this time, however, he’s on Eddie’s side. From a one-dimensional bad guy in book 1, he’s transformed into someone Eddie has to—and then can—rely on. There’s a new prosecuting attorney, and he’s a great character and a worthy competitor for Eddie.

No matter who’s writing the legal thriller, one of my favorite parts of the book is the narrator/protagonist giving the reader insight into how the judicial system functions—the nitty-gritty stuff about scheduling trials, deciding who to put on your witness list, the order you call the witnesses in, and so on. The reader gets plenty of that here—along with two (complementary) explanations why attorneys on either side of the case just don’t want anything to drive a judge to sequester a jury. I’d never thought of that before, but it rings so true. Eddie also gives a very detailed explanation about how the skills that made him a successful con artist make him a successful trial lawyer. Because I enjoy it so much, I could’ve read a whole lot more of this “behind the scenes” material if it’d been possible for Cavanagh to work it in. Still, I think we get more of that here than we have before.

The pacing on this book is intense—Eddie being hired, investigating, the trial and the outcome all take place in a week. A business week, Monday – Friday, to be specific. That’s just insane—and improbable. But you don’t stop to doubt it while reading. Even after finishing the book, I can’t be bothered to spend too much time wondering about that, because Cavanagh sold the timeline so well. It doesn’t feel rushed at all, however, it just feels like an intense thriller.

While driving the pace that hard, no corners are cut in the intricacy of the story. There are surprises, twists and turns enough to satisfy every reader, and enough courtroom shenanigans to compete with Mason or Haller. The penultimate reveal got me calling Cavanagh some pretty terrible names—not because I didn’t like the reveal, not because Cavanagh cheated in the way he told the story, but because he fooled me. It was all there, ready to be seen, but like a good magician, Cavanagh kept my eyes on what he was doing with one hand and ignoring the —he totally hoodwinked me. I admire that in an author but despise myself for falling victim.

Is Thirteen a decent jumping-on point to the series? Oh yeah, a great one—but you might find yourself a bit underwhelmed if you then go on to read the previous books (just a bit, that that’s only in comparison to this). For those of us who’ve been with Eddie for a while? This is a noticeable progression in quality. Cavanagh’s no longer a promising new author, he’s a reliable established veteran. Cavanagh’s been accumulating plenty of awards lately, and Thirteen demonstrates why and absolutely deserves the critical and award attention it’s been receiving. But better than all of that? It’s a riveting and rewarding read—entertaining, tense, and satisfying. Go get yourself a copy now and you can thank me later.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Flatiron Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

5 Stars

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

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Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh: Eddie Flynn, a Serial Killer and a “Trial of the Century”

ThirteenThirteen

by Steve Cavanagh
Series: Eddie Flynn, #4
eARC, 336 pg.
Flatiron Books, 2019
Read: July 26 – 29, 2019

I wanted this posted a day ago, but just a couple hours after finishing it, I wasn’t capable of discussing it in a meaningful way—unless you consider gibberish with intermittent “squee”s and a lot of exclamation points meaningful (and, I suppose it is, in a fashion). I think I’m a bit better now, but I’m still having a hard time organizing my thoughts. I’ve discussed each of the prior Eddie Flynn books in the last couple of years here—and each one has been a little better than its predecessor. This is no exception—but I’m not sure if Eddie Flynn #5 will be able to top this one (equalling it will prove difficult enough).

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Before he’s had time to fully absorb—much less react to—some devastating personal news, Eddie Flynn is approached by one of the biggest, flashiest, best-known defense attorneys in New York to be his second chair in an upcoming murder trial. He’s not interested, at all—even after the money on the table is mentioned. But he eventually agrees to meet with the accused to decide if he believes in the client’s claims of innocence.

Robert (Bobby) Solomon is an actor on the verge of super-stardom. He’s one-half of a Hollywood power-couple with a reality show and a couple of movies together that are responsible for this status. He also stands accused of killing his wife and their security chief after finding them in bed. Eddie believes him and signs on. The media (social and otherwise) is abuzz with the killings and is circulating plenty of rumors, innuendoes and speculation about Bobby and his wife at this time, as they cover “The Trial of the Century.”

The prosecution’s case is almost overwhelmingly strong, but with some creative thinking, Eddie and his investigator dive into the case, coming up with a strategy for his defense—including ways to attack the prosecution’s case. His investigator is the FBI Agent Harper from The Liar, who has since quit the Bureau and is doing PI and security work with her former partner (this was a great move by Cavanagh, she’s the best character from that book not named Flynn).

Still, that’s a daunting target and an almost impossible feat. But what makes it worse? The actual killer—a serial killer, mind you—is on the jury and is committed to getting a guilty verdict. What a great hook, right?

It is hard, almost impossible, to give readers a serial killer as unique as this one. He’s not as charming or intelligent as Dr. Lecter (but close on the latter), he’s not as obviously sick and twisted as most fictional serial killers. There’s not a trace of sexual sadism or anything like that to his modus operandi (which is not to say there’s none in his past). He’s smart, he’s careful, he’s strategic and committed to his vision. He’s got some natural gifts that help him—and an ally that assists him (a non-lone wolf serial killer, I don’t know if I’ve seen that before).

What separates this killer from the rest is the motivation behind his killings and victim selection (and how he makes them a victim). Yes, he’s clearly mentally ill—psychopathic/sociopathic tendencies (if he’s not diagnosable with either), and he enjoys his work. But there’s an ethos, an ideology behind his work. He’s got a message for the world, a lesson he’s trying to teach people. Everything he does is toward this goal, toward living out this ethos. I absolutely loved this, and the more Cavanagh showed this was behind the killing (and eventually, killings), the more we saw of the motivation, the more I liked it (and the more impressed I was with the creation of this killer).

I want to go on a few more paragraphs about him, but I can’t without spoiling everything—so let me stress this is a great, and unique, serial killer.

While dealing with this case, Eddie also has some family problems he’s trying to address, and there are some NYPD cops out for him after embarrassing a detective on the witness stand. Eddie spends more time in danger from members of the NYPD than he does from the killer.

Harry, of course, is back—which is great. He’s more involved in this case than he has been since the first book, The Defense. He’s a judge, Eddie’s former mentor and current self-appointed guardian of Eddie’s alcohol intake. He’s a great friend and ally for Eddie. We also see the return of Arnold Novoselic, the jury consultant that caused so much trouble for Eddie in The Defense, this time, however, he’s on Eddie’s side. From a one-dimensional bad guy in book 1, he’s transformed into someone Eddie has to—and then can—rely on. There’s a new prosecuting attorney, and he’s a great character and a worthy competitor for Eddie.

No matter who’s writing the legal thriller, one of my favorite parts of the book is the narrator/protagonist giving the reader insight into how the judicial system functions—the nitty-gritty stuff about scheduling trials, deciding who to put on your witness list, the order you call the witnesses in, and so on. The reader gets plenty of that here—along with two (complementary) explanations why attorneys on either side of the case just don’t want anything to drive a judge to sequester a jury. I’d never thought of that before, but it rings so true. Eddie also gives a very detailed explanation about how the skills that made him a successful con artist make him a successful trial lawyer. Because I enjoy it so much, I could’ve read a whole lot more of this “behind the scenes” material if it’d been possible for Cavanagh to work it in. Still, I think we get more of that here than we have before.

The pacing on this book is intense—Eddie being hired, investigating, the trial and the outcome all take place in a week. A business week, Monday – Friday, to be specific. That’s just insane—and improbable. But you don’t stop to doubt it while reading. Even after finishing the book, I can’t be bothered to spend too much time wondering about that, because Cavanagh sold the timeline so well. It doesn’t feel rushed at all, however, it just feels like an intense thriller.

While driving the pace that hard, no corners are cut in the intricacy of the story. There are surprises, twists and turns enough to satisfy every reader, and enough courtroom shenanigans to compete with Mason or Haller. The penultimate reveal got me calling Cavanagh some pretty terrible names—not because I didn’t like the reveal, not because Cavanagh cheated in the way he told the story, but because he fooled me. It was all there, ready to be seen, but like a good magician, Cavanagh kept my eyes on what he was doing with one hand and ignoring the —he totally hoodwinked me. I admire that in an author but despise myself for falling victim.

Is Thirteen a decent jumping-on point to the series? Oh yeah, a great one—but you might find yourself a bit underwhelmed if you then go on to read the previous books (just a bit, that that’s only in comparison to this). For those of us who’ve been with Eddie for a while? This is a noticeable progression in quality. Cavanagh’s no longer a promising new author, he’s a reliable established veteran. Cavanagh’s been accumulating plenty of awards lately, and Thirteen demonstrates why and absolutely deserves the critical and award attention it’s been receiving. But better than all of that? It’s a riveting and rewarding read—entertaining, tense, and satisfying. Go get yourself a copy now and you can thank me later.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Flatiron Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

5 Stars

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

The Liar by Steve Cavanagh: Another Fantastic Ride with the Wiliest Lawyer in Print!

The LiarThe Liar

by Steve Cavanagh
Series: Eddie Flynn, #3

Paperback, 327 pg.
Orion Books, 2017

Read: May 6 – 9, 2019
Eddie’s being sued in a way to attack the legacy — and the finances — of his friend/mentor Judge Harry Ford for a case he had back in his days as a defense attorney. Harry’s client was found guilty — and insane — and died about a decade later in a treatment facility she’d been sentenced to for murder. This is an important case for Eddie and Harry for multiple reasons, but as interesting as this case is, it takes a backseat to the main case in this novel.

Leonard Howell’s a former marine who runs a security company — who specializes in K&R (kidnap and return) — that Eddie knew back when they were both kids. His nineteen year-old daughter was recently kidnapped herself and Howell has a plan to retrieve her. He just needs to get around the FBI to pull it off. Enter his need for his old acquaintance Eddie Flynn — both to help him trick the FBI and to represent him because he’ll no doubt be arrested for carrying his plan out. But he doesn’t care too much about that, as long as his daughter is saved.

Eddie remembers what it feels like to have your daughter kidnapped and signs on — let’s be honest, he probably would have anyway. It’s a good thing he does, because Howell’s plan goes awry in fairly significant ways and he finds himself arrested for a lot more than anyone expected. Which is just the beginning of the book — it gets a lot more tangled, interesting, and exciting after that.

You know, for legal thrillers there’s a lot of action in the Eddie Flynn books. Sure, a good deal happens inside the courtroom — but Eddie’s not Perry Mason. What happens outside the courtroom is frequently more interesting than what happens inside. Which is saying something, because Cavanagh captures what’s most exciting about the cases and trials procedures as well as anyone does. As exciting — and important — as what happens outside the courtroom can be, for me, a legal thriller needs to land the courtroom stuff, or why bother? When Eddie is playing to a jury, interacting with a judge, messing with opposing counsel or questioning a witness? He’s fantastic (not infallible, as he proves here) — I’m not sure Mickey Haller could’ve handled this one any better (and likely not as well).

Just because the title uses a definite article, don’t make the mistake of thinking there’s only one in the book. You’d be better off not trusting anyone, including our beloved protagonist — well, almost anyone (I’ll have to leave that vague so as not to ruin anything).

One thing I want to note, and can’t think of a smooth way to work this in — what Eddie accomplishes in this book have more to do with his being a good lawyer and a smart guy than his past as a con man. He gets opportunities to flex those muscles, yes, but it’s not what defines him as a character here. Eddie the mostly-reformed con-man is a great character, don’t mistake me. But Eddie the scrappy lawyer, appeals to me more.

That said — early on, Eddie does something to help his client using the principles of Three Card Monte — and the wise reader would learn from this, because Cavanagh does the same thing. You will think that Cavanagh is doing one thing — and if you’re the type to try to figure out ahead of time where the mystery is going, whodunit, etc. (like I am), you will think you know where he’s going. And then when a Major Reveal happens which is pretty surprising, but really confirms all your theories — you start to feel smug and confident. Which is when Eddie and his creator probably start smiling — because within thirty pages of that, another Major Reveal comes along and totally blindsides you. I really never recovered from that for the rest of the book, honestly. Most of my theories remained largely intact, but they all had to be interpreted differently, and the motives behind them all changed.

I’ve never had a complaint about Cavanagh’s writing before now, but I didn’t realize he was nearly as clever as he is. I absolutely loved the way he fooled me — without cheating — and kept the tension mounting throughout this book in unexpected way after unexpected way. It’s just a great ride — right up to the point where Eddie demonstrates, again, just how stupid it is for people to make him angry. You’d think word would get around NYC courts about what happens when people challenge Eddie… A good series that gets better every time — do yourself a favor and pick this up. It’s a decent jumping on point to the series, too — you don’t have to know the first books, I shouldn’t forget to note).

—–

4 1/2 Stars

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

The Plea by Steve Cavanagh is a dynamite legal thriller

The PleaThe Plea

by Steve Cavanagh
Series: Eddie Flynn, #2

Hardcover, 358 pg.
Flatiron Books, 2016 (2018 for US Edition)
Read: April 10 – 12, 2017

Lawyers don’t usually question whether or not a client is telling truth. That way lies madness. You do what you have to and trust the system. So, the guilty plead guilty. The innocent fight their case and the jury decides. If a by-product of that process is the emergence of the truth, then so be it, but the truth is not the aim of the process. The verdict is the aim. Truth has no place in the trial because no one is concerned with finding it, least of all the lawyers or the judge.

If that’s not cynical enough for you, try this:

I saw through Dell’s game. It was a familiar one. It’s a game the justice system plays every single day in America–because sometimes it simply doesn’t matter if you’re really innocent of the crime; the only smart move is to plead guilty and make a deal for a lesser sentence.

“You want me to read the new evidence and tell David that irrespective of his innocence, he will definitely be convicted and his only choice is to plead guilty and make a deal to cut his sentence.”

“Bingo,” said Dell.

Happens all the time. I’ve done it myself. Innocent people often don’t want to take the chance of losing and doing fifteen or twenty years when they could make a deal and be out in two. It’s mathematics–not justice, but that’s the reality.

Don’t worry — this book is not a diatribe about the shortcomings of the American judicial system (as appropriate as one might be), little comments like that are just a little bit of flavoring accenting the story, grounding it in the real world despite the craziness filling the book.

Eddie Flynn, for those new to the character, is a con man who went straight and then went to Law School. Following that, he made a couple big mistakes — one cost him the career he had built, the other cost him his family. He’s in the process of rebuilding both — no easy task — but you have to root for the guy trying to recover.

Eddie’s approached (okay, ambushed) by the FBI, who wants Eddie to take on a new client, David Child. Child’s a tech billionaire accused of murdering his girlfriend, and the FBI wants Eddie to convince him to plead to the charges. Then he needs to convince Eddie to help the FBI take down the law firm that currently represents him — and is laundering money on a mind-boggling scale. If Eddie refuses? The FBI has enough evidence to put Eddie’s ex away for a long time (did I mention that she works for the aforementioned firm, totally unaware that she’s incriminated in the laundering?).

So, somehow Eddie has to separate Child from his current counsel, replace them, and then persuade Child to work with the FBI — within a couple of days. No easy task. Then Eddie becomes convinced that Child is innocent. Which complicates things tremendously. So how does Eddie clear Child, keep his wife out of jail and help the FBI take down the laundering lawyers? Well, it’ll take every bit of his old tricks, and maybe a few new ones.

I’m not a huge legal thriller guy — never read a Grisham — but when you give me a compelling character (particularly a defense attorney) like Eddie Flynn, I’m in. Watching Eddie navigate through the tricky waters of the system — including jail guards, court staff, judges, prosecutors — is a blast. This was like a serious version of the Andy Carpenter books. I would like to see Eddie take on a client he because he wanted to for a change, but that’s not a complaint about this book, it’d just be nice to see.

Sure, it’s your appreciation for Eddie Flynn that’ll determine if you like this book or not, but he’s not the only character to focus on — there’s David Child himself, who is interestingly drawn — he’s a fairly typical computer-genius character, socially awkward, etc. Typical, yes, but used well. My only complaint about Child’s associate, Holly, is that we didn’t get more of her (not that Cavanagh could’ve easily fit more of her in). The villains? Nasty, vile people — believable (with one possible exception, but I liked him enough I don’t care) — all of them were well used, well drawn and just what the doctor ordered.

The Plea isn’t perfect: I figured out the whodunit almost instantly, but it took a little while to get the details of the howdunit right — and Cavanagh fooled me a little bit on that one. But that didn’t detract from the book at all — the fun is in watching Eddie and the rest scramble to survive this horrible situation and figure things out. The plot moves at a relentless pace — which is a cliché, I realize, but I challenge you to come up with another way to describe this plot. Eddie can barely get a moment to rest and think, and when you’re reading this, you feel like you can’t either.

Characters you can’t help but root for (or, in some cases, against), a fast-moving plot, with just enough twists, turns and hurdles. This one’ll grab you by the collar and drag you along as it rushes to the dramatic conclusion (not that you’ll be fighting against it, but the dragging will help you keep up). Keep yours eyes peeled for Steve Cavanagh and Eddie Flynn, they’re something to watch.

—–

4 Stars

The Defense by Steve Cavanagh

The DefenseThe Defense

by Steve Cavanagh
Series: Eddie Flynn, #1

Hardcover, 306 pg.
Flatiron Books, 2016

Read: April 28 – May 1, 2017


Eddie Flynn is a con artist who went legit — mostly. There’s a lot of call in his new life for the skills he developed in his old. He’d been pretty successful until a horrible outcome tied to his last case sent Eddie around the bend — he’d vowed never to get back into the courtroom. He just couldn’t handle anything like what had happened again. Until the head of the Russian mob in New York is up on murder charges.

So what brings Eddie back to defending accused criminals? Well, it’s that old story that we’ve all heard a million times — he’s abducted by the Russian mafia, had a bomb thrown on to him and the only way that keeps that from blowing up is his continued compliance — but that’s not all: Eddie’s daughter has also been kidnapped and his being held hostage. All Eddie has to do is keep the case going long enough for the Prosecution to bring out its big witness from protective custody so that the bomb Eddie’s carrying can be used to kill the witness.

Not a plan Eddie’s crazy about, but it’s not like anyone consulted him. He dives into the defense like his life depends on it (oh, wait . . . ), and comes to a couple of conclusions: 1. He and his daughter are not going to live, no matter what the kidnappers said — unless he pulls a rabbit out of a hat; 2. there’s something strange going on with the case that just doesn’t make any sense; 3. there’s something strange going on with his client’s men; and 4. he just might know how to win the case without anyone having to be blown up.

While we see Eddie’s efforts to defend his client and to get freedom for himself and his daughter, we also get flashbacks to the calamity of the previous year, Eddie’s childhood and criminal career, his relationship with his daughter and more. Cavanagh handles the balancing act between the background and the ongoing action well — the past informing and shaping the present, while keeping things tense for the now. How Cavanagh pulls that off in 300 pages, I’ll never know. And it is tense throughout — Eddie barely gets a chance to breathe, it’s a good thing he has a lifetime of thinking quickly on his feet, or there’d be no hope for him.

I liked Eddie almost immediately — you have to, or you’re not going to enjoy this book. He’s one part Mickey Haller, one part Andy Carpenter, one part Nicholas Fox — a slick, clever and tough lawyer, basically. His friends were interesting and his opponents were just what you want in antagonists. There was real threat, real peril throughout, yet you always knew that Eddie Flynn had a trick or five up his sleeve.

The last chapter felt more like the wrap-up of a stand-alone thriller than it did the first novel in a series. Not that it precluded further adventures, it just didn’t point to them the way series generally do, but clearly Cavanagh didn’t let that stop him — book 3 comes out in a couple of weeks. I’m looking forward to spending more time with Eddie soon, myself.

—–

3.5 Stars