Review: ‘Juror #3’ by James Patterson and Nancy Allen

Juror #3Juror #3 by James Patterson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When a reader buys a book that appears to be a novel, s/he has every right to expect a novel. That’s not what we get with “Juror #3.” Many novels include the words “a novel” on the cover and title page. This one doesn’t. Yet, the presentation implies a book-length story instead of a work that is essentially two short stories with many of the same characters. Without providing a spoiler here, suffice it to say that when the first court case suddenly ends midway through the book, many readers will be disappointed.

The premise is interesting. Fresh out of law school, Ruby Bozart returns to Rosedale, Mississippi where she spent part of her childhood living on the other side of the tracks. She hangs up a shingle, expecting to get her start by practising family law. To her surprise, a judge assigns her to handle a high-profile murder case that appears to be a slam dunk for the district attorney. A black football star has been accused of murdering a white lady at a local country club where he was working as a waiter. He was found with the victim, his hands and clothes covered with her blood.

Bozart is a compelling character. She’s smart and determined to fully represent her well-known client rather than walk through the case, and though she’s made her first friend in town–a fry cook at the local diner–she’s going to need substantial legal advice to go up against an experienced district attorney. As usual, there’s more here than meets the eye, including help from unexpected quarters: a savvy and out-of-the-blue law partner.

As a true novel, the book’s first story would have had more depth and the support characters would have been more fully developed. However, all of the characters are real within the book’s theme and setting, so Patterson fans won’t have any trouble staying up past their bedtimes to find out just what the deal is with the man sitting in the third chair in the jury box.

Once all is said and done and the case ends, Bozart’s former fiancé, the rich Lee Green, Jr., who comes from old money, asks Ruby to defend him against charges he murdered a prostitute in Vicksburg. He claims he’s innocent even though he was found passed out in a hotel room in bed with the dead call girl. Once again, Ruby is facing what appears to be a slam dunk for the prosecution. To make matters worse, the case has gotten so much press coverage in Vicksburg, Ruby doesn’t see how it’s possible for Lee to get a fair trial even if she really wanted to defend him, which she doesn’t.

After all, their engagement ended because he was unfaithful to her. On top of that, his family never accepted her as worthy of him. She takes the case anyway. Like the first story, Ruby shows that in spite of her paltry courtroom experience, she can maintain her poise in a battle against an experienced district attorney who’s just as smug as Lee’s family. Yet she needs more help figuring this case out than she did with the first case. That is to say, while she has gut-feeling suspicions about the prostitute’s death, her partner handles most of the “heavy lifting” that gets Ruby out of a life-threatening jam.

The second story contains many compelling twists and turns, but in general–in these kinds of books–one expects the protagonist to be the hero of the story. It’s probable that Ruby wouldn’t have survived to the end of the second case without her partner’s intervention. For many fans, this is going to weaken the story.

Both stories could have worked on their own had they been presented as short stories even though each of them needed a little more depth even within Patterson’s trademark fast-paced style. The book would have been better if it had been presented openly as two stories. What a shame that it wasn’t put together that way.

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Malcolm

Review: ‘Identity: Lost’ a legal thriller by Pascal Marco

When I review a book, I check the publisher’s description online and on the back cover to make sure I don’t inadvertently divulge plot twists and other surprises that readers won’t know when they start reading. I was a bit surprised to find a blurb on Pascal Marco’s Identity: Lost from an author claiming that this “electrifying debut puts him firmly in the hunt to succeed John Grisham.”  Really?

By the time I finished reading this intricate and heartbreaking legal thriller, I decided that blurb might be right.

After twelve-year-old James Overstreet witnesses a 1975 murder in a lakefront Chicago park in a dangerous neighborhood, his life changes dramatically because police and prosecutors botch the trial. James identifies the black gang members who killed the 85-year-old white man in Burnham Park. But once the judge says, “I have no choice but to find the defendants not guilty of murder,” James and his family know their lives are at risk if they ever go home again.

Readers know going into this book that thirty years later James Overstreet will no longer be James Overstreet, but a man named Stan Kobe who has gone to law school, learned his craft well, and become a successful prosecutor in Maricopa County,  Arizona. Savvy readers will guess that even though James has been reincarnated as Stan 1,400 miles away from the scene of the crime, one way or another, “Ice Pick” and the Oakwood Rangers will cross his path again.

Crime shows on TV often imply that once a person goes into the Witness Protection Program, life is safe and good. Pascal Marco does a wonderful job of counteracting that myth. When James becomes Stan, nobody can know. All ties to his past, and his parents’ past are cut. Even if Stan is good at pretending he didn’t come from Chicago and knows little or nothing about the town, there are a hundred ways a chance statement or a chance meeting will bring the Oakwood Rangers to his front door. While James/Stan might be a bit more paranoid about such things than most, his fears are not without cause.

Marco’s plot is complex, for any future encounters between the young man who was torn away from his favorite lakefront park and plunked down in the Southwest must be handled carefully. If not, the novel would appear to rest on a string of unlikely coincidences. While the novel slows down a little while James is going to law school and turning into Maricopa County’s “most ruthless prosecutor,” Identity: Lost moves forward at flank speed through a labyrinth of thrills and chills en route to a surprising and satisfying ending.

Electrifying is a reasonable superlative for this novel. Marco, a native Chicagoan and current Arizona resident, uses his streetwise knowledge of both locations to great advantage in bringing this story to life. The characters are richly and realistically created from James/Stan to Chicago detectives “Stick” and “Timbo” to Ice Pick and his Rangers to Manny Fleischman (the victim) who once played for James/Stan’s beloved White Sox. Identity: Lost is a well-told tale with a fine mix of courtroom, Chicagoland and baseball ambiance and many dangerous moments.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of four novels, including the 2011 contemporary fantasy “Sarabande.”