Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. Legal cases are as varied as the people involved in them. So are crime novels that feature lawyers. And there aren’t too lawyers much more different than Paul Levine’s Miami-based Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord. Let’s take a look at how different lawyers go about their work, and turn today’s spotlight on Solomon v Lord, the first of Levine’s Solomon and Lord series.
As the story begins, Solomon and Lord are in holding cells on charges of contempt of court. They’re on opposite sides of a case (Lord’s prosecuting, Solomon’s defending), and have made the mistake of annoying the judge with their arguing and bickering. When they’re finally released, they finish their arguments and the case is decided.
They dislike each other right away. To Solomon, Lord is far too ‘by the book.’ She’s rigid, narrow, and has no sense at all of humour. To Lord, Solomon is not much above a sleazy ambulance-chaser. He flouts the law and engages in courtroom antics to get his point across. They come from very different backgrounds, too. Solomon doesn’t have a lot of money, he didn’t go to an Ivy League law school, and so on. Lord, on the other hand, has ‘blueblood’ lineage and went to Yale Law School. In fact, she’s engaged to marry wealthy Bruce Bixby and work for his land development firm – corporate rather than trial law.
But these two lawyers soon end up working on the same side. Wealthy Charles Barksdale has died in what could be an accident but might not be. It seems he was involved in some very kinky sex when he suddenly died of asphyxiation. His much-younger wife, Katrina, is suspected of killing him, and in fact, is arrested. Solomon feels that if he can get that case and defend Katrina Barksdale, he can make his name (and get quite a good fee). For that, though, he needs connections, since the Barksdales move in very high circles. It turns out that Lord belongs to the same country club as Katrina Barksdale, so Solomon finds a creative way to wangle an introduction and the case. The proviso is that Solomon and Lord will work together.
In the meantime, Solomon has another, major problem. He’s been raising his eleven-year-old nephew, Bobby, since rescuing the boy from an abusive situation. What makes it all worse is that the abusive parent is Solomon’s sister, Janice. What’s more, Bobby has special needs, and suffered real trauma. So, it’s taken a long time for the two to trust each other. Now, Jack Zinkavich of the Division of Family Services is threatening to do what is necessary to make Bobby a ward of the state and put him in an institution. This, Solomon knows, would harm the boy. Besides, he loves Bobby and wants to take care of him.
Solomon hopes that if he wins the Barksdale case, he’ll be in a better position to be named as Bobby’s guardian. And, without spoiling the story, I can say that the two cases are tied together in another way, too. So, with so much at stake, Solomon and Lord work together to defend Katrina Barksdale and to ensure that Bobby will have a permanent home with his uncle.
This is in many ways a legal novel. So, readers follow along as Solomon and Lord plot strategy, work through the various steps of preparing for a trial, and so on. There are judges, courthouse meetings, meetings with their client and witnesses, and so on.
The novel is also the story of very different legal styles. Solomon has a strong sense of people (he sometimes calls himself the human polygraph). He doesn’t do a lot of preparation, and sometimes stretches the law. For him, the law is less important than the human beings involved in a given situation. He’s smart, shrewd, and is willing to try all sorts of unorthodox things if they’ll help his case. Lord, on the other hand, does a lot of legal research, makes copious notes, and prepares at length. She’s also one of the best rookie lawyers there is. Together, they make a formidable team, despite their differences.
The story takes place in the Miami/Dade County area of Florida, and that’s very clear. In terms of daily life, culture, weather, and more, this is a distinctly ‘Florida’ story. And it’s interesting to see the way the setting impacts the case and the story.
Another important element in the story is the set of characters. Some of the characters are eccentric, even a little strange. All of them are more than they seem on the surface. The story is told from both Solomon’s and Lord’s perspectives (third person, past tense). So we especially get to know their characters. Solomon can be immature, short-tempered, and even conceited. But he’s courageous, utterly devoted to Bobby, and determined that those who most need it get justice. Lord can be aloof, even seeming cold. She hasn’t learned to use her gut instincts, and she’s much more fixed on the letter than on the spirit of the law. But she’s brave, sharp-witted, and resilient. And she has more of a compassionate side than most people think.
It’s also worth noting that the novel features a set of ‘Solomon’s Laws,’ rules by which Solomon lives. They also give insight into his character. Two of them, for instance, are:
When the Law Doesn’t Work…Work the Law.
I Will never Compromise My Ideals to Achieve Someone Else’s Definition of Success.
The story has plenty of wit, as Solomon is good at wisecracks. There are also some funny scenes. But it’s not a light, ‘happy’ sort of a story. And it’s not all a cosy novel. There’s plenty of foul language, references to sex, and some violence (although the violence isn’t really brutal).
Solomon vs Lord introduces two very different, but equally skilled, lawyers. It takes place in a distinctly Florida setting, and features two cases that aren’t what they seem on the surface. Oh, and for those who might be interested (by whom I especially mean Moira at Clothes in Books), there’s a lot of interesting detail about clothes. But what’s your view? Have you read Solomon vs Lord? If you have, what elements do you see in it?
Coming Up On In The Spotlight
Monday, 19 March/Tuesday, 20 March – Birth Marks – Sarah Dunant
Monday, 26 March/Tuesday, 27 March – Koreatown Blues – Mark Rogers
Monday, 2 April/Tuesday, 3 April – The Salaryman’s Wife – Sujata Massey