William Morrow
PAGES: 432

If you had told me two years ago that one of my favorite series would be about a lawyer, I would have laughed in your face.

Years before Alan Shore was created, William Lashner created a Jewish lawyer named Victor Carl who only wants to escape his blue collar past and get rich quick. He believes he’s cheerfully amoral and shamelessly selfish, but when it comes to his clients, he’ll go to the ends of the earth and un-earth decades of sordid secrets and lies. He’s been compared to Raymond Chandler, but the tone of his books are more like that of Ross MacDonald in the fact that the crimes have to do with sins of the past and the families that struggle to cover them up or find the truth. Lawyer noir, I like to call it. Did I mention they are really really funny?(One of the main antagonists of the last book Lies The Shadow was a Danny Tanner type dentist who liked doing good deeds, no matter who he had to hurt to do them, and his assistant was a huge Russian female dental hygienist) Victor is wonderfully cynical and his humor is biting, while his narration of the stories are personable and often delve into thoughtful ponderings of ambition and what makes a man good or what he’ll have to do to reach his goals. The characters all have quirks and flaws, and while they’re not necessarily realistic, you can’t help but like every poor bum and rich power player he deftly creates. Victor is the most realistic of them, and he’s the guy that has to deal with all the nuts. Lashner will break your heart at a moments notice though, with scenes like in Past Due where his estranged father is sick and possibly dying in the hospital and his doctor asks Victor what she can get him, he quietly asks her to save his father’s life with almost childlike hope, she is after all, a doctor.

Marked Man starts out with Victor passed out in his apartment and waking up groggily, remembering a night of wild times and booze. And then he notices that his chest is tattooed with a heart and the name Chantal Adair.

Meanwhile, at work, he has to help a common criminal who stole a painting thirty years ago come home to see his dying mother. Easy enough, the statute of limitations passed years ago, but there’s something keeping Charlie away, and the assistant D.A. has a hard-on for putting him in jail.

As Victor goes deeper into the case, he discovers that Chantal was a girl that disappeared thirty years ago and somehow it has to do with the painting that was stolen thirty years ago.

The dialogue, as in all his books, is highly stylized. The educated people talk like those that you would find on Boston Legal, but every character has a distinct way of speaking that is a delight to read. Really, this is Lashner’s biggest talent and often makes me forget that all these vastly different people are being written by one man.

He uses Philadelphia extremely well; the high class parts of the city coming off glitzy, while oozing with power and the lower class bars and neighborhoods are sleazy, stinking of lost hope and ambitions that have been repeatedly stomped on. Victor straddles the line having come from the lower class and being repeatedly rejected by all the clubs, the power players, and the firms. (Though Alan Shore would like him, I think.) He makes some hard decisions about what he wants and how he wants to get it, and comes perilously close to becoming what he hates, but in the last stretch of his decision, he’s saved.

William Lashner’s lawyer noir series is a delightfully dark read with moments of real but flawed humanity. It’s a little long and one of the surprise character twists at the end isn’t that interesting, but I highly recommend this book and the rest of the series (The first two books are the weakest but also absolutely essential to Victor’s story and growth, I just believe Lashner was still trying to find Victor’s voice until the third book Fatal Flaw came out where he perfected it.) of Lashner’s legal noir series. Read it, you’ll like it; Victor Carl is a lawyer you’ll want to win.

BETTER THAN: John Grisham (But then, who isn’t? Enough with the genius small town southern lawyers!)

NOT AS GOOD AS: Scott Turow (C’mon, Presumed Innocent is a classic.)

READ IF YOU LIKE: Boston Legal

8 out of 10