Mysterious Press, $24.00, 256 pages, ISBN 978-0-8021-2079-3
Some of the most popular and ever present murder mysteries and crime fiction novels involve lawyers and courtroom dramas. Probably the first to do so was Earle Stanley Gardner, with his case-cracking super-lawyer named Perry Mason, who always seemed able to force a confession on the witness stand. These days, author John Grisham seems to have a hammer-lock on the genre, but, just like sports, where there’s always up and coming new talent nipping at the heels of the veterans, so it is with writers.
Bear Is Broken by Lachlan Smith is a debut novel from a new young author with what looks like a long and prolific writing career in front of him. The place is San Francisco, and the time is mid-day. Leo Maxwell, a young attorney who’s just passed the California Bar Exam, is having lunch with his older brother Teddy, a highly successful criminal defense attorney who manages to win the majority of his cases, no matter how dire the charges against his clients. Teddy is a hard driving uber-lawyer with a history, who’s loved by his clients and despised by cops, and prosecutors who’ve faced him in court, only to be soundly thumped in front of their peers. They’re discussing Leo’s potential job options in an upscale restaurant at the height of rush hour. And that’s when a person wearing a hat and raincoat walks up, leans over Leo’s shoulder, shoots Teddy Maxwell in the head with a large caliber handgun and calmly departs through the kitchen and escapes . . . all in the first four pages. As Teddy hovers between life and death in the critical care unit, Leo realizes that the list of potential suspects is a mile long and the police don’t seem to be highly motivated to catch the assailant. But the harder he digs, the more complex the case becomes, leading Leo ever-deeper into his brothers labyrinthine affairs. Twists, turns, false conclusions and red herrings are sprinkled liberally throughout this interesting, well-plotted and complex mystery. Do yourself a favor and get introduced to Leo Maxwell and author Lachlan Smith. He’s going to have a long and distinguished writing career.