Category Archives: Paul Levine

Can’t You Find Another Way*

Paul Levine’s Steve Solomon is a Coconut Grove, Florida lawyer who lives by a set of what he calls ‘Solomon’s Laws.’ And the first one is,
 

When the law doesn’t work…work the law.
 

That doesn’t being illegal. Any credible lawyer knows that breaking the law can mean disbarment at the very least. Rather, it means using the law to do some good, rather than hiding blindly behind one or another law. Solomon does just that on a regular basis. He’s gotten himself in trouble more than once by seeing the law as a living, breathing entity, rather than something immutable. He’s not at all conventional, and he can be brash and even a little conceited. But he has an interesting, compassionate view about what the law is supposed to do. Throughout the series, we see how Solomon looks at different situations, and tries to make the law work for them, rather than fit them into what the law, strictly speaking, says.

He’s not the only crime-fictional protagonist who does this. And it’s interesting to see how sleuths are at the same time both respectful of what law or policy says (i.e. not stereotypical mavericks) and flexible about it all. Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot is one of those characters. On the one hand, as he says himself, he does not approve of murder. And fans know that he has no compunction about having a murderer arrested. At the same time, he is aware of the humanity, if that’s the way to say it, involved in the cases he investigates. And, in more than one story (no titles – I don’t want to give away spoilers), he allows for the right thing to be done, rather than for the strictest interpretation of the law.

There’s an interesting case of ‘working the law’ in Martin Clark’s The Legal Limit. In that novel, we are introduced to Mason Hunt, who is the commonwealth prosecutor for Patrick County, Virginia. He’s had the personal blow of being widowed, but he’s doing well, and he has a close bond with his daughter, Grace. Then, the past comes back to haunt him. Years earlier, Hunt and his brother, Gates, were involved in an argument with Gates’ romantic rival, Wayne Thompson. Later that night, the Hunt brothers encountered Thompson again, the argument was rekindled, and before anyone really knew it, Gates shot Thompson. Out of a sense of filial loyalty, Mason helped his brother get rid of the evidence of the murder, and both men got on with their lives. Now, Gates is in prison on a cocaine trafficking charge, and he wants his brother to get him out. Mason refuses, for a lot of good reasons, and Gates threatens to implicate him in the still-unsolved Thompson murder. Mason calls his brother’s bluff, and soon, he’s indicted on a murder charge. Now, Mason and Assistant Prosecutor Custis Norman will have to think of an approach to keeping Gates in prison and clearing Mason’s name. It won’t be easy, because Mason has, after all, illegally hidden evidence. But the two hit on a strategy that just might work…

Gianrico Carofiglio’s Guido Guerrieri finds ways to work the law in Involuntary Witness. In that novel, Guerrieri, who lives and works in Bari, is asked to take on a very difficult legal case. It seems that a Senegalese immigrant named Abdou Thiam has been arrested for abducting and murdering nine-year-old Francesco Rubino. There’s plenty of evidence against him, too. But his partner, Abajaje Deheva, says that he’s not guilty. And she hires Guerrieri to defend Thiam. At first, Thiam doesn’t think he has much chance, especially being a Senegalese in an Italian court. But Guerrieri soon comes to believe that his client is innocent. Now, he’s going to have to come up with a strategy that works the law so that he can clear Thiam’s name.

So does attorney Casper Leinen in Ferdinand von Schirach’s The Collini Case/Der Fall Collini. In that novel, we are introduced to Fabrizio Collini, an Italian immigrant to Germany. For years, he’s lived and worked quietly in Böblingen. Then, unexpectedly, he travels to Berlin’s Hotel Adlon, where he goes to one of the suites and shoots Jean-Baptiste Meyer. He’s taken immediately into custody, where he does nothing to defend himself. German law requires that he be represented by counsel; and, as it happens, Leinen is on standby duty for legal aid when Collini is arrested. So, he goes to meet with his new client. Soon enough, he finds out that this is going to be a very difficult case. Collini admits right away that he killed Meyer but doesn’t say why. The examining magistrate fully expects Leinen to simply go through the motions to ensure that his client is treated fairly. And Collini is willing to take whatever punishment he gets from the German court system. Leinen, though, wants to really defend his client. And he’s not afraid to admit he wants to win in court. So, he puts all of his effort into this case. And he finds that there’s more to this murder than it seems on the surface. He’s going to have to work the law if he’s going to free his client.

And it’s not just attorneys who learn the value of occasionally working the law. Alexander McCall Smith’s Mma Precious Ramotswe has learned it, too. For instance, in The Kalahari Typing School For Men, she’s been hired by a client who wants to make amends with a former landlord from whom he stole a radio. Mma Ramotswe agrees to try to find the family. The landlord has died, but his widow is still alive. So, Mma Ramotswe goes to the government pension office. Her thought is to try to get the widow’s address, so she can ask the woman if she’ll meet with Mma Ramotswe’s client. Unfortunately, the office clerk is smug and self-important, and refuses to give out any information. He says the rules forbid giving out any information. Here’s what happens next:
 

‘‘But that is not the rule,’ said Mma. Ramotswe. ‘…The rule says that you must not give the name of a pensioner. It says nothing about the address.’
The clerk shook his head. ‘I do not think you can be right, Mma. I am the one who knows the rules. You are the public.’
‘Yes, Rra. I am sure that you are very good when it comes to rules…But sometimes, when one has to know so many rules, one can get them mixed up. You are thinking of Rule 25. This rule is really Rule 24(b), subsection (i)…The rule that deals with addresses is Rule 18, which has now been cancelled.’’ 
 

In this case, Mma  Ramotswe uses the clerk’s own rules against him for what she sees as the greater good.

And that’s the thing about working the law. It doesn’t mean breaking the law. Rather, it means looking at the law as part of a larger picture, so that the most good is done.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Randy Darnell Jackson and Homer Banks’ Can’t You Find Another Way (of Doing It).

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alexander McCall Smith, Ferdinand von Schirach, Gianrico Carofiglio, Paul Levine

He’s Got a Pretty Trophy Wife*

Whenever a wealthy person gets involved with a much younger person, all sorts of assumptions are made. She’s a ‘trophy wife,’ or he’s a ‘boy toy,’ only in the relationship for the money. And sometimes, that’s true. Certainly, it’s a stereotype that we hear a lot about in real life.

It’s there in crime fiction, too, and it can make for an interesting set of dynamics in a story. If there are children involved, there are all sorts of issues there. And even if there aren’t, there can be any amount of tension that comes from that sort of relationship.

Agatha Christie used those relationships in more than one of her stories. For instance, in both Triangle at Rhodes and Evil Under the Sun, the main plot revolves around a wealthy woman (Valentine Chantry and Arlena Stuart Marshall, respectively) who begins a relationship with a younger man. In both cases, the women are married to other people, so there’s tension on that score. And in both cases, there’s plenty of gossip about the romance. Christie also depicts that sort of relationship in The Mystery of the Blue Train. One of the characters in that novel is Lady Rosalie Tamplin. She’s married to her ‘boy toy’ husband, ‘Chubby’ Evans, and she does like him. Her daughter, Lenox, has this to say about him:
 

‘‘And Chubby now,’ said Lenox. ‘He is an expensive luxury if you like.’’
 

Lady Tamplin and her daughter get involved in a murder mystery when a distant cousin, Katherine Grey, comes to visit. During the train ride to Nice, where Lady Tamplin lives, Katherine meets a woman who is murdered the next night. Hercule Poirot is also on the train, and he works to find out who the killer is.

Cathy Ace’s The Corpse With the Silver Tongue introduces readers to her sleuth, Catlin ‘Cait’ Morgan. Originally from Wales, she lives and works in Vancouver, where she teaches criminology at the University of Vancouver. When a colleague breaks some bones in a bicycle accident, she agrees to take his place at an upcoming symposium in Nice, where she will deliver his paper. The presentation goes well enough, but trouble starts when she happens to encounter a former employer, Alistair Townsend. On impulse, Townsend invites her to the birthday party he’s having for his ‘trophy wife,’ Tamsin, that evening. At first, Morgan refuses. But Townsend won’t take ‘no’ for an answer, and before she knows it, Morgan’s agreed to go. At the party, Townsend suddenly collapses and dies of what turns out to be poison. Since Morgan is the only ‘outsider,’ and since she had good reason to dislike the victim, she becomes a ‘person of interest.’ Partly in order to clear her name, she starts to ask some questions. It turns out that more than one person had a motive for wanting Townsend dead.

In Teresa Solana’s A Not So Perfect Crime, we are introduced to Barcelona PIs Eduard Martínez and his twin brother Josep “Pep” (who prefers to be called Borja). They may be twins, but they have very little in common. Eduard, for instance, is happily married to his wife, Montse. Borja, though, is not so interested in marriage. As the novel begins, he’s happy being ‘kept’ by his wealthy lover, Merche. So, he gets to drive a good car, get his hair done at the best places, wear an expensive wardrobe, and so on. The main plot of this novel concerns Lluís Font, a prominent Conservative politician who suspects that his wife, Lídia, is being unfaithful. He hires the Martínez brothers to follow her and see if she is, indeed, having an affair. They find no evidence of that, but not long afterwards, Lídia is poisoned. Now, Font becomes a murder suspect. He hires the brothers to stay on the case and clear his name. Borja’s personal life isn’t the reason for the murder. But it’s an interesting layer of his character, and it’s one of many ways in which he and Eduard are different.

In Surender Mohan Pathak The Colaba Conspiracy, Jeet Singh has determined to leave behind his safecracking/lockbreaking past. He’s got a legitimate business now – a Mumbai kiosk where he makes and sells keys. One day, he gets a call from a former confederate, offering him quite a lot of money if he’ll do a job. Singh refuses outright; he doesn’t want any more to do with crime and the police. He wavers a bit, though, when an old friend, Gailo, asks him to go in on a job. This one will be quite lucrative, and Singh feels that he owes Gailo. Still, he says ‘no’ at first. Everything changes when Singh gets a visit from a former lover, Sushmita. Since they ended their relationship, she’s married wealthy Pursumal Changulani, a man who’s much older than she is. Her status as a ‘trophy wife’ certainly hasn’t endeared her to Changulani’s children. But matters get much worse when Changulani is killed. At first, his death looks like a carjacking gone wrong. But evidence has come up that suggests that this was a pre-planned murder. If so, then someone hired the person who committed the crime. And the police suspect that that someone was Sushmita. Changulani’s children claim that he was never legally married to Sushmita, so she has no claim on any of his money. Until that matter is settled, she has no access to his fortune, so she asks Singh’s financial help, so she can hire a lawyer. This is enough to push Singh into accepting the job Gailo offered. It’s also enough to get him mixed up in a murder case. When the police begin to suspect that he was working with Sushmita, Singh knows he’ll have to find out who the real killer was if he’s going to clear his name.

Late Addition

There’s a really interesting ‘trophy wife’ character, Katrina Barksdale, in Paul Levine’s Solomon vs Lord. When she is accused of murdering her husband during some kinky sex, Miami attorney Steve Solomon wants very much to defend her. There’s a major fee for him if he does. But he’ll need the help of Victoria Lord, a new attorney who’s as opposite to Solomon as it’s possible to be. It’s a very interesting case that gives an inside look at the ‘trophy wife/older husband’ relationship.

‘Trophy wives’ and ‘boy toys’ can bring all sorts of complications into a crime story. That plot point can add character development and suspense, so it’s little wonder we see it in the genre. These are just a few examples. Your turn.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Del McCoury Band’s Forty Acres and a Fool.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Cathy Ace, Paul Levine, Surender Mohan Pathak, Teresa Solana

Foreman Says These Jobs Are Going, Boys, and They Ain’t Coming Back*

If you’ve ever been fired, you know how awful an experience that is. Even if you’re made redundant because of cutbacks (and not, say, job performance), it hurts. A lot. And a wise employer doesn’t fire someone on a whim. It’s a very serious step to take.

Being fired/terminated/separated is very hard, but it is a part of life. So, it makes sense that we’d see it in crime fiction, too. It can be the basis for tension and conflict, or it can be a plot point. It can also add a layer of character development.

For instance, in Robert Pollock’s Loophole: or, How to Rob a Bank, we are introduced to architect Stephen Booker. When he is made redundant, it’s a real blow for him and his wife. He likes his profession; so, at first, he tries to get another job in the field. He isn’t successful, though, and as time goes by, he begins to feel more and more desperate. Finally, he takes a job driving cab at night, thinking he can still use the days to look for a new position. One night, he meets professional thief Mike Daniels. Before long, Daniels becomes one of Booker’s regular fares and they get to know each other. When Daniels finds out that Booker is an architect, he decides to let him in on a secret. Daniels and his team have been planning a major heist: the robbery of the City Savings Deposit Bank. The bank is, of course, carefully guarded, so the team needs to find a way to work around the security. For that, they need an architect, and Daniels thinks he’s found his man. It takes some persuading, because Booker is basically a law-abiding person. But he’s also desperate for a job – any job – and falls in with the group’s plans. Everything goes along well, until a sudden rainstorm comes up and changes everything.

In the ‘Emma Lathen’ team’s Murder to Go, a big merger is in the works. Southeast Insurance is planning a merger with an up-and-coming fast food company called Chicken Tonight. The Sloan Guaranty Bank is involved in the merger, so it’s got an interest in making sure everything goes smoothly. But it doesn’t. Several people are sickened by one of Chicken Tonight’s new recipes. One of them even dies. This puts the merger in grave doubt and raises all sorts of questions about Chicken Tonight. So, the company wants to find out right away how the poisonings happened and do ‘damage control.’ At first, it looks very much as though the culprit is a man named Clyde Sweeney. He is a former delivery driver for the company, and he had access to the spices and food. What’s more, he had been fired recently and was bitter and angry about it. That certainly gives him motive to sabotage the company. It doesn’t help Sweeney’s case that he’s gone missing. But when he turns up dead, it’s clear that something more is going on. Sloan Vice President John Putnam Thatcher gets involved in the case and starts asking questions. He finds that the solution lies in behind-the-scenes greed and manipulation.

Geoffrey McGeachin’s Fat, Fifty and F***ed begins just after bank manager Martin Carter is made redundant. With his marriage falling apart, and now no job to provide stability, Carter hasn’t got much to lose. On his last day of work, he can’t resist the lure of a million-dollar payroll and takes the money. He makes his escape in a police-issue 4WD and is soon on his way. But that act of desperation is only the start of Carter’s adventures. Along the way, he meets a New Age bike gang, a librarian who’s get her own secrets and past, and plenty of other characters as well.

Nelson Brunanski’s Crooked Lake introduces John ‘Bart’ Bartowski. He and his wife, Rosie, own Stuart Lake Lodge, a holiday fishing lodge in the northern part of Saskatchewan. They live in the small town of Crooked Lake, where everyone knows everyone else. And one of those people is Nick Taylor, head greenskeeper for the Crooked Lake Regional Park and Golf Course. One day, Taylor is fired from his job. He’s devastated and furious, especially since he sees no specific reason for being let go. He blames Board member Harvey Kristoff, who has never liked him and has been looking for a reason to get rid of him. Later that day, Kristoff’s body is discovered on the green near the golf course’s seventh hole. Taylor is, of course, the most likely suspect, and he admits that he was very angry about being terminated. But he says that he’s not guilty of the murder. Taylor’s lawyer asks Bart’s help in clearing his client’s name, and Bart is happy to oblige, as he and Taylor are long-time friends. When the killer finds out that Bart’s asking questions, this spells danger for the Bartowski family. But Bart feels a strong obligation to an old friend, so he persists. And, in the end, he finds out the truth.

And then there’s Paul Levine’s Solomon vs Lord, which introduces his protagonists, Miami lawyers Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord. As the novel begins, they’re on opposite sides of a case involving illegal smuggling of animals. Solomon’s defending; Lord’s prosecuting. They can’t stop scrapping with each other and bickering, though, which annoys the judge so much that they’re held on charges of contempt of court. When they’re finally released, they go back to the case, which is soon decided. The whole incident does nothing for Lord’s reputation, and she is summarily fired, publicly and in a humiliating way. It’s very upsetting for her, of course, and even Solomon feels compassion for her. Besides, as Solomon sees it, she may be a rookie, but Lord is a good lawyer who will develop into a truly great lawyer. So, he invites her to work with him in a new case he’s trying to get. Katrina Barksdale has been accused of killing her extremely wealthy husband, Charles. She claims she’s innocent, and Solomon knows that if he gets the case and wins it, there’s a large fee in it for him. He needs Lord’s ‘blueblood’ connections and her skills; she needs a job. So, they start working on the case together. And it turns out this case is more complicated then just a wife who kills to get her husband’s fortune.

Losing a job is hard, often painful, and always disruptive. It can have all sorts of consequences, too. So, it makes sense that this plot point would show up in crime fiction.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bruce Springsteen’s My Hometown.

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Filed under Emma Lathen, Geoffrey McGeachin, Nelson Brunanski, Paul Levine, Robert Pollock

In The Spotlight: Paul Levine’s Solomon vs Lord

Hello, All,

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

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Filed under Paul Levine, Solomon vs Lord

Pressure, Pushing Down on Me*

In the US, one of the last major hurdles for Ph.D. candidates is defending their dissertations. I understand it’s the same in many other places, too. If you have a Ph.D. yourself, or you’ve sat in on one of these events, then you know it’s a very intense experience. As this is posted, it’s my ‘dissertation anniversary,’ which has me thinking about the process. Candidates spend weeks or even months preparing their presentations of their material, as well as responses to possible questions they may get from members of their dissertation committees (and, at times, the audience). And, of course, those questions may be about any aspect of the dissertation, so the candidate needs to be thoroughly familiar with every bit of the material. It’s nerve-wracking, to say the least.

The thing about defending a dissertation is that it’s a bit difficult to describe, since it doesn’t have a lot of obvious parallels in other fields. But a look at crime fiction can help give a few insights.

Getting ready to defend a dissertation is a little like rehearsing for a performance. Just as actors must know their lines and musicians must know their pieces, Ph.D. candidates have to have their presentations well-prepared. We see the intensity of rehearsal in a lot of crime fiction. For instance, Christine Poulson’s Stage Fright sees her protagonist, Cassandra James, asked to adapt a Victorian novel, East Lynne, for a stage production. She’s Head of the English Department at St. Etheldreda’s College, Cambridge, and her specialty is Victorian literature. So, she’s the right choice for the job. All starts out well enough, and rehearsals begin. But then, Melissa Meadows, who is to take a leading role in the play, tells James that someone is stalking her. Then, she goes missing. This throws rehearsals into chaos, and, when she doesn’t return, leads to the investigation of a possible murder.

Fans of Ngaio Marsh, Simon Brett, and Deborah Nicholson, among others, will know that their novels also take the reader ‘backstage.’ In such novels, we see how many times material has to be prepared and how important timing is. We also see the suspense, nerves and tension that come out under so much pressure. It’s the same when one’s preparing to defend a dissertation.

Defending a dissertation isn’t really entertainment, though. Candidates need to be prepared to address challenges to everything about their work. They need to examine each aspect of their dissertations, from the topic, to the data collection, to the data analysis, and more. In that sense, preparing to defend a dissertation is a little like preparing for a trial. A good attorney prepares thoroughly for each trial. That includes working with witnesses and, possibly, the defendant. It also includes looking carefully at each aspect of the case, and addressing possible weaknesses. Attorneys know that any serious weaknesses in a case will be exploited by the other side. So, they do everything possible to prevent that. Admittedly, the Ph.D. candidate doesn’t risk prison. But it’s still quite a high-stakes process.

We see that sort of preparation in work by, for instance Scott Turow, John Grisham, Robert Rotenberg, and Paul Levine. The writing team of ‘Perri O’Shaughnessy’ also explore this sort of pre-trial work in their Nina Reilly novels.

Presenting one’s material before the dissertation committee, and fielding questions, isn’t exactly like a trial. The role of the dissertation committee is to support the candidate. After all, if the candidate doesn’t do well, this reflects on the committee, too – in particular on the candidate’s advisor/tutor, who generally chairs the committee.

In that way, defending a dissertation is a bit like a major sports competition. On the one hand, the player has to work very hard, and coaches can be difficult to satisfy. The Olympic Games, the World Series, the World Cup, and other such contests, all require discipline and focus. And coaches and trainers push and challenge players to get the most from them. At the same time, their role is to be allies and support systems.

Alison Gordon’s crime novels give readers a good look at what it’s like to play for a Major League baseball team. Readers see how important the actual games can be, and what the roles of coaches and trainers are. John Daniell’s The Fixer offers some similar insight into the world of rugby. And there’s Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar series, which takes the perspective of a sports agent. In all of these novels and series, we see how pivotal a game or series of games can be. That stress and tension is quite similar to what it’s like to defend a dissertation.

As I say, it’s a little difficult to describe getting ready to defend a dissertation. It’s a singular experience, and it challenges Ph.D. candidates to think about their work in ways they probably wouldn’t otherwise. But there is nothing quite like being informed you’ve passed, and having your committee address you as ‘Doctor.’ I often think it would actually be a solid context for a crime novel. There’s tension, intense preparation, possible ego clashes, and there’s no telling what the candidate might uncover in pursuit of that all-important data set. If you went through this process, I’d love to hear your experiences. I still remember mine, even after a number of years.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Queen and David Bowie’s Under Pressure.

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Filed under Alison Gordon, Christine Poulson, Deborah Nicholson, Harlan Coben, John Daniell, John Grisham, Ngaio Marsh, Paul Levine, Perri O'Shaughnessy, Robert Rotenberg, Scott Turow, Simon Brett