Haven’t posted much about my reading lately. I spent a lot of January reading Cameron Hawley’s remaining books. I know I posted about Executive Suite earlier, but I liked his other stuff too! I’d say the weakest was Cash McCall, his second book, which relies too much on the mystery surrounding its eponymous figure (a Howard Roark-type personage who is, essentially, a corporate raider). But The Lincoln Lords, which is about a businessman who, after years of jetting from company to company without accomplishing much, finds himself unemployable, and The Hurricane Years, about a playwright-turned-advertising-executive who has a heart attack at age 44 and starts to wonder WHAT WAS IT ALL FORRRRRR?????
Okay, the books do venture occasionally into the realm of the hokey, especially in The Hurricane Years, where this doctor becomes very, very, very personally invested in his amateur psychoanalytic reading of the protagonist’s personality. But the books are essentially very nuanced comedies of manners that center on relations within the business sphere. This is basically my bag. I love it. I mean where is there more interpersonal drama, in our adult lives, than at work? It’s there and it’s in our families. That’s it. That’s why all sitcoms are either workplace sitcoms or family sitcoms (okay and Girls and Master of None and Friends and…alright, whatever, so it was a generalization).
Afterwards for some reason I got into legal thrillers. I think it was because I bought The Lincoln Lawyer on sale at audible…oh my god, I just realized, just now, that I only read The Lincoln Lawyer because its name was reminiscent of Cameron Hawley’s The Lincoln Lords. Well anyway it was a good one. I read Connelly’s other four Mickey Haller books, which are all about a defense attorney who’s just north of shady and who’s willing to do whatever it takes to get his murderous clients (except what if they’re really innocent!) off the hook. They’re all fantastic, except for the the third, The Reversal, where he becomes a special prosecutor. That one didn’t satisfy in the same way.
It’s hard to say what made them so compulsively listenable. Haller is an appealing hero. He’s hardboiled, but he still believes in things. He wants his clients to be innocent. He wants to do well. He genuinely thinks most of them deserve better than they get. And I also like the focus on finances and on the daily practice of running a business. I mean it’s a bit romantic, isn’t it, to be running a business out of your car, right? And the courtroom antics are great. I do find all trial books and TV shows to be a bit far-fetched nowadays, since actual trials are SOOOOO rare. I talked to a criminal defense lawyer recently who said that in all his years of practice, he’s only gone to trial twice! But at least Haller recognizes, in each case, that the trial is a rare occurrence.
Once I had the bug, I wanted to read others, so I sought out a few other legal thrillers. I read Defending Jacob by William Landay, which is, basically, a bad seed story. A prosecutor investigates a murder at a school, only to find that the main suspect is his son (the second two thirds of the book is the trial of his son). But it’s an exceptionally well-written one. The voice is so pitch-perfect: it sounds like a fusty fifty year old small-town prosecutor who’s frustrated with modern life (whenever the narrator talked about Facebook and Twitter or interviews teenagers it really made me giggle).
Finally I ended up with Scott Turow. I really have very mixed feelings about him, because on the one hand he’s much better than most bestselling novelists. His books are as much about character development and interpersonal relationships as they are about legal drama. They all seem to be about middle-aged men who have to come to terms with their own smallness and limitations, but you know what? That’s okay! Write what you know! Of the ones I read, I’d say the best was Personal Injuries, which is about a shady personal injury lawyer who gets popped for tax evasion by the IRS and then gets bullied into participating into an investigation of a ring of crooked judges. Although there’s plenty of drama surrounding their attempts to get these judges, a good part of the book’s suspense comes from our unfolding understanding of the nature of the man, Robert Feaver, whose dishonesty started all this.
Feaver, our snitch and (sort of) protagonist, starts off seemed really weak and cowardly, but as the novel goes on, our opinion of him flips and flops, turning one way and then the rest. And you know that in the end you’re going to end up feeling terminally ambiguous (who is he? what is this man worth?), but when the ending finally comes, there’s still a moment of quietness that’s very affecting.
In the negative column, I feel like Turow’s books come off sort of racist. There’s a particular sort of 80s and 90s liberalism that’s worn extremely poorly. I think before now I’d noticed it most often in the work of Tom Wolfe (particularly The Bonfire of the Vanities and Mau-Mauing The Flak Catchers). It’s the liberalism in which of course you acknowledge that black people have it hard, but where you also argue that black people are too militant and that they’re damaging their own cause. It’s the liberalism in which every black person is alway playing the race card and calling you out for racism. It’s the liberalism in which you pretend that white prosecutors and cops are actually anxious for the chance to prosecute a white man–the liberalism where you pretend that, because everybody is so liberal, white men don’t really get a fair shake in the justice system.
Since this is clearly the opposite of true, it just ends up feeling racist. The gender politics of his books can feel similarly out of date. But if you can look past that, they’re pretty good. Definitely much better than most bestsellers.