Category Archives: Paul Levine

He Was a Punk, She Did Ballet*

A really interesting post from FictionFan at FictionFan’s Book Reviews has got me thinking about doubles. By that, I mean contrasting or complementary characters – two sides of the coin, so to speak. That duality can make for interesting contrast and tension in a story. It can also add layers to a character.

FictionFan discussed doubles in the context of Scottish literature, but we see this phenomenon in plenty of other stories, including crime fiction. And it’s not hard to see why. Duality can add much to a story.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, we are introduced to Linnet Ridgeway. She is blonde, beautiful, aristocratic, and wealthy. She’s one of those ‘golden’ people who seem to have it all. While she’s usually not icy and aloof, she’s somewhat reserved. Her best friend is Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ de Bellefort. Jackie is dark-haired, vivacious and passionate. She is also quite poor, as is her fiancé, Simon Doyle. Jackie wants very much to marry Simon, but they’re not in a position to do that. So, she asks Linnet to give Simon a job as land agent. Linnet agrees, but then the unexpected happens. Simon and Linnet begin a romance and end up marrying. On the second night of their honeymoon cruise of the Nile, Linnet is shot. Hercule Poirot is on the same cruise, and he and Colonel Race, who’s also aboard, investigate. The most obvious suspect is Jackie, who’s been more or less stalking the couple. But it’s soon proven that she couldn’t have committed the murder. So, Poirot and Race have to look elsewhere. Throughout the novel, the contrast between Linnet and Jackie adds some tension and certainly character layers to the story.

Talmage Powell’s short story To Avoid a Scandal uses doubles as a powerful point of tension. Horace Croyden is a quiet, dignified, reserved banker. Scandal has never touched his family, and he wouldn’t dream of changing that. He lives by himself in quiet good taste, and does well at his job. His hobby is ciphers, and he’s devoted to that, too. Everything changes when he meets his boss’ cousin, Althea. She is warm and vivacious, and her habits aren’t as particular as Horace’s are. Still, they begin to date, and after a short time, Horace proposes. But the marriage does not work well, at least from his perspective. Althea shops without a list, doesn’t always get dressed before she eats breakfast, and so on. And then, she starts to change the décor of the apartment they share. That’s bad enough, but the worst moment comes when she gets rid of some of Horace’s beloved ciphers. Now feeling trapped, Horace comes up with his own plan to make his life right again…

Martin Clark’s The Legal Limit is the story of two brothers, Mason and Gates Hunt. Born into poverty, and the sons of an abusive father, they grow up with quite different responses to their pasts. Mason takes advantage of every opportunity he gets, and eventually wins a scholarship to law school. Gates, on the other hand, squanders his considerable athletic ability, and ends up living on his girlfriend’s Welfare payments and on money he gets from the young men’s mother, Sadie Grace. One day, Gates has an argument with his romantic rival, Wayne Thompson. The argument ebbs, and Wayne leaves. But later, when the Hunt brothers are on their way home from a night out, they encounter Wayne again. The argument flares up, and before anyone really thinks about it, Gates has shot Wayne. Out of a sense of loyalty, Mason helps his brother hide the evidence, and life goes on for both. Years later, Mason is a commonwealth prosecutor for Patrick County, Virginia. Gates is arrested for trafficking in cocaine and is given a long sentence. He begs his brother to help get him out of prison, but this time, Mason refuses. Gates threatens to implicate Mason in the still-unsolved Thompson murder if he doesn’t help. When Mason calls his bluff, Gates follows through. Now, Mason is under indictment, and will have to stand trial for murder. He’s going to have rely on his own skills and on help from his deputy prosecutor if he’s going to clear his name.

Caroline Overington’s Sisters of Mercy introduces two sisters:  Agnes Moore and Sally Narelle ‘Snow’ Delaney. Born years apart, their lives have taken very different paths. Agnes was born in the UK during WW II and ended up in an orphanage. Later, she moved to Australia, and then back to the UK, where she married and had a daughter, Ruby. Agnes’ parents moved to Australia, where they had Snow, and started new lives. Agnes decides to visit Australia and try to find her younger sister. But while she’s there, she gets caught in a dust storm and goes missing. Ruby makes a very public call for any help in locating her mother, and that’s when journalist Jack ‘Tap’ Fawcett hears of the story. He writes an article about it, and then begins receiving letters from Snow, who’s in prison. Slowly, as the story goes on, we learn about Snow’s life, and, in the end, why she’s in prison. We also learn about Agnes’ life. The two sisters are very different, and that contrast makes for a really interesting set of character layers, as well as a source of tension.

And then there are law (and life) partners Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord, who ‘star’ in one of Paul Levine’s series. They’re both skilled attorneys, but they couldn’t be more different. Solomon doesn’t have a lot of money, he didn’t go to an Ivy League university, and he doesn’t move in high social circles. Lord, on the other hand, is a ‘blueblood’ who went to Yale University Law School. And it’s not just their backgrounds that are different; it’s also their approaches to their cases. Solomon is laid-back, and he isn’t above using courtroom antics to get an advantage in a case. Lord, on the other hand, prepares very carefully for each court date. She uses a lot of adhesive notes, does all the background research she can, and so on. Their skills are very different, but arguably complementary, and those differences add to the series.

And that’s the thing about doubles. They can add tension, even suspense, to a story. And they can add interesting layers of character. Thanks, FictionFan, for the inspiration. Now, folks, give yourselves a treat and go visit FictionFan’s excellent blog. Fine reviews and discussion – and the fretful porpentine – await you!

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Avril Lavigne’s Sk8r Boi.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Caroline Overington, Martin Clark, Paul Levine, Talmage Powell

Show Them the Master Sorcerer You Are*

As this is posted, it’s 61 years since the première of the TV series Perry Mason, based, of course, on the novels by Erle Stanley Gardner. One of the tropes made famous in that series is the courtroom surprise. In more than one episode, Mason produces a surprise witness, or piece of evidence. Those things are not quite as apparent in the books, although I admit I’ve not read them all. It makes sense that a TV or film about a court case would include that sort of big surprise. It adds to the drama, and it builds suspense.

In real life, of course, there are a lot fewer such surprises, and that is logical. There are rules about introducing evidence, calling witnesses, and so on, so there aren’t a lot of opportunities for either side to surprise the other. And many judges are not at all fond of that sort of courtroom drama. The idea is to ensure a truly fair trial, where neither side can ‘railroad’ the other. So, any fictional courtroom surprises have to be carefully written if a novel is to be credible. Even so, there are some interesting uses of the courtroom surprise in the genre.

Agatha Christie used courtroom scenes in several of her novels and stories. For instance, in the short story The Witness For the Prosecution, Leonard Vole goes on trial for the murder of a wealthy widow, Emily French, who’d befriended him. There’s clear-cut evidence against him, and his lawyer is going to have quite a challenge defending him. It’s arranged that Vole’s wife, Romaine, will appear as a witness for Vole. But then, in one of the story’s twists, she appears as a witness for the prosecution. This changes everything, and it’s not the only surprise in this courtroom story. Fans of Taken at the Flood (AKA There is a Tide) and Sad Cypress can tell you that some surprising things happen in courtrooms in those novels, too.

Paul Levine’s Steve Solomon is, as the book blurbs frequently say, a Coconut Grove (Florida) beach bum. He’s a skilled lawyer, but the first of what he calls Solomon’s Laws is:
 

When the Law Doesn’t Work, Work the Law.
 

And he does. In the courtroom, he is highly competitive and unconventional. And that means he does some very surprising things at times. He pushes the limits of what would likely be allowed in a real-life courtroom, and that doesn’t always go down well with his business (and life) partner, Victoria Lord. But his courtroom surprises often get results.

Gianrico Carofiglio’s Involuntary Witness introduces Guido Guerrieri, an attorney who lives and works in Bari. In this novel, he is approached by a woman named Abajaje Deheba. She wants to hire Guerrieri to defend her partner, Abdou Thiam, against charges of abduction and murder in the case of nine-year-old Francesco Rubino. The case against Thiam is strong, as it can be proved that he knew the boy. There’s other evidence against him, too. But both he and his partner claim that he is innocent. Still, he is going to need a good lawyer. Guerrieri agrees to take the case and meets with Thiam. At first, Thiam is reluctant to trust his new lawyer. But little by little, the two begin to communicate. It’s soon clear that Thiam wants a full-on, traditional trial, because he wants to prove his innocence. So, Guerrieri gets ready. At the trial, he knows he’ll have to do an especially good job defending a client who is not only assumed to be guilty, but also is what’s called ‘a non-European.’ So, there’s already prejudice against him. But, Guerrieri has a few surprises, including an innovative use of another witness’ testimony. It’s interesting to see how he uses surprise in his arguments.

There’s also Ferdinand von Schirach’s The Collini Case (Der Fall Collini). In that novel, Fabrizio Collini travels to Berlin’s Hotel Adlon. There, he goes to the suite occupied by Jean-Baptiste Meyer and shoots Meyer. He’s promptly arrested and taken into custody. German law requires that all persons accused of crime must be represented by an attorney, and Collini has no lawyer. So, it’s left to legal aid to provide an attorney, and that person turns out to be Caspar Leinan, who’s taking his turn ‘on duty’ when the Collini case comes through. Leinan meets with Collini, and soon discovers that his client isn’t going to be much help. For one thing, he doesn’t deny the shooting; in fact, he admits it. He doesn’t give a motive, though, or say very much of anything else. So, Leinan is going to have to work extra hard to find a way to defend his client. And, in the end, he does. He is able to use an obscure point of German law as a courtroom surprise to make his client’s case. It isn’t dramatic in the sense that a television-trope surprise witness would be. But it does change everything.

Fictional courtroom ‘bombshells’ are, perhaps, easier to do in film and television, because of the visual impact. And even there, they need to be handled carefully if they’re to be credible. That said, though, that sort of surprise can add tension to a story, a twist to a plot, and interest, too.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from John Kander and Fred Ebbs’ Razzle Dazzle.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner, Ferdinand von Schirach, Gianrico Carofiglio, Paul Levine

I’m Feeling Like a Fool*

We’ve all had the experience, I’ll bet: those cringe-worthy moments that you really hope no-one’s seen. At least, I hope I’m not the only one…  Most of us have those embarrassing moments. If we’re lucky, nobody sees, or, at least, nobody who knows us sees.

Those moments don’t make for the happiest of memories, but they can be effective in crime novels. For one thing, they can lighten up what may be a dark novel. For another, they are very human. So, when a character has one of THOSE moments, we can identify with that character a little.

We don’t often think of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot as having cringe-worthy moments. But even he is not immune. In the short story The Chocolate Box, Poirot recounts to Captain Hastings a case of which he is not particularly proud. During Poirot’s years with the Belgian Police, he investigated the death of French deputy Paul Deroulard, who was living in Belgium. He followed the leads, but, in the end, named the wrong person as killer, and that person was arrested. It wasn’t until the real killer summoned him and explained everything that Poirot really learned the truth about the matter. He still regards this case as one of his failures and asks Hastings to remind him of it if he ever gets too conceited. Of course, that doesn’t take very long, and Hastings reminds Poirot of that cringe-worthy case.

Christopher Brookmyre’s Quite Ugly One Morning begins with a cringe-worthy moment for Edinburgh journalist Jack Parlabane. He wakes up with a serious hangover, only to notice that there’s a lot of noise coming from the flat downstairs. So, dressed only in his boxers and a T-shirt, he goes down to try to get whoever’s making all the noise to stop. He’s forgotten, though, that the door of his own flat locks automatically when it closes, so he’s locked out of his home. When he gets to the downstairs flat, he sees that it’s the scene of a brutal murder. As you can imagine, he doesn’t want to mixed up in the case, although his journalist instinct wants information. He’s hoping that he can sneak through a window from the downstairs flat, and crawl through the corresponding window in his own flat. It doesn’t work out that way, though, as he’s seen by Detective Constable (DC) Jenny Dalziel. It’s bad enough that he’s in his underwear. Things get even more difficult when he has to explain what he’s doing at a murder scene…

In one plot thread of Donna Malane’s Surrender, Wellington-based missing person expert Diane Rowe discovers that James Patrick ‘Snow’ Wilson has been murdered. This death is important to her, because, a year earlier, her sister, Niki, was murdered, and everyone has always believed that Snow was guilty. In fact, just before he was killed, Snow admitted he was the killer, and said that someone paid him to do the job. Rowe reasons that, if she can find out who paid Snow, she can also find out who killed her sister. At one point, she happens to be passing by the home that Snow shared with his two sisters and decides to go in and see if she can find any clues. She gets stuck going through a window, but makes it in – only to be stopped cold by a cricket bat. As it happens, Snow’s sisters were at home, and Rowe has found herself in a very cringe-worthy situation. Fortunately for Rowe, Snow’s sisters want to find their brother’s killer as much as Rowe wants to find her sister’s killer. So, they agree to help each other. And it turns out that each proves useful to the other.

Paul Levine’s Solomon vs Lord introduces his protagonists, Miami-area lawyers Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord. When we meet them, they’re on opposite sides of a case. Lord is prosecuting Amancio Pedrosa for illegally smuggling in some of the animals he sells in his shop. Solomon is defending Pedrosa. At one point in the trial, Solomon brings a cockatoo into the courtroom as part of his trial strategy. During the proceedings, the bird flies to Lord, lands on the arm of the expensive suit she’s wearing, and leaves a distinctive token of its visit on her sleeve. As it is, she’s on edge; her boss has just publicly humiliated her, firing her in front of everyone in court. This cringe-worthy moment just makes everything that much worse. Rather than take advantage of Lord’s distress, Solomon has sympathy for her. And the two end up working together on a very lucrative case in which they defend Katrina Barksdale against the charge of murdering her husband.

And then there’s Brad Parks’ Carter Ross, whom we meet in Faces of the Gone. He’s a journalist for the Newark, New Jersey Eagle-Examiner. One morning, his boss sends him to Ludlow Street, where four bodies have been discovered in a vacant lot. The police theory is that a local bar owner had them killed, because one of them robbed his bar, and the others were accomplices. But Ross doesn’t think that’s what happened, and he starts to ask questions. At one point, he makes contact with a local gang that he thinks might have information. The only way they’ll trust him enough to talk to him is if he smokes marijuana with them, so he does. He comes back to the newspaper office later, still under the influence, and he feels lucky that he isn’t fired for it. His colleagues find out about it, and soon, his area is decorated with copies of High Times magazine, pictures of marijuana plants, and more. It’s a cringe-worthy experience for him, but he takes it in good spirit.

And sometimes, that’s what you have to do when you have one of THOSE moments. These are just a few examples from crime fiction. I know you’ll think of more.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Roxette’s Fool.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Brad Parks, Christopher Brookmyre, Donna Malane, Paul Levine

Small, Small World*

It’s interesting how communities can form what we often call small worlds. And it’s not just a matter of small towns, where it’s common for everyone to know everyone, and for this person’s partner to be that person’s cousin. Networks can stretch all over the world, really.

And those networks can be very useful tools for crime writers. For example, an amateur sleuth can’t credibly get involved in an investigation without some sort of ‘in.’ And even a PI often gets new clients through working with one person, who knows other people, or who went to school with other people, etc. There are many examples of how this works in the genre. Here are just a few.

In Agatha Christie’s Murder in Mesopotamia, we meet Dr. Eric Leidner, an archaeologist who’s heading up a dig a few hours from Baghdad. When his wife, Louise, is murdered one afternoon, the police are, of course, called in to investigate. Family friend Dr. Reilly suggests that Hercule Poirot take part in the case, since he happens to be in the area. What’s interesting is that Leidner has already heard of Poirot through Rufus Van Aldin (his story is told in The Mystery of the Blue Train). There are other comments, too, that show what a small world it is. Leidner agrees to ask Poirot to get involved in the case, and Poirot agrees. It’s an effective way to get a detective associated with an investigation, and Christie fans will know that she uses this sort of strategy in more than one novel.

In The Corpse With the Silver Tongue, Cathy Ace’s Caitlin ‘Cait’ Morgan gets involved in an investigation halfway across the world from where she lives – but still through someone she knows. She is a criminologist and academician who teaches at the University of Vancouver. When a colleague is injured in an accident, she agrees to take his place at an upcoming symposium in Nice, where she will deliver his paper. The presentation goes well enough, and Morgan is looking forward to enjoying her remaining time in Nice when she happens to encounter a former employer, Alistair Townsend. It’s not exactly a happy reunion, since her relationship with him was not warm and cordial. Despite that, he spontaneously invites her to his home to celebrate his wife, Tamsin’s, birthday. At first, she demurs, but he won’t take ‘no’ for an answer, and before she quite knows it, she’s accepted. At the party, Townsend collapses and dies of what turns out to be poison. The police are called in, and Morgan becomes a ‘person of interest,’ since she is the only ‘outsider’ at the party, and since she had good reason to dislike the victim. She wants to clear her name, and she wants to get back to Vancouver. So, she starts asking questions, and soon finds that this gets into more than her share of danger.

In Paul Levine’s Solomon vs Lord, Miami attorney Steve Solomon has a chance at a very lucrative case. Wealthy Charles Barksdale has died of what might be an accident – but might not be. His much-younger wife, Katrina, is suspected of killing him, and, in fact, the police have enough evidence against her to arrest her. Solomon knows that if he can get that case and defend Katrina Barksdale, he has a good chance of winning, and of getting a hefty fee. The problem is, his would-be client moves in very high circles – much higher than Solomon’s own. So, he can’t really approach her. But he knows someone who can. He’s recently gone up against newly-minted attorney Victoria Lord in court. She’s smart, very promising, and ‘blueblood.’ In fact, she belongs to the same club as Katrina Barksdale does. Solomon has to convince Lord to link him up, so to speak, so that he can get that case. It’s not easy, but he persuades her that it’s in her interest to be involved in a high-profile case like this. Now, the former opponents have to work together to clear their client if they can.

Attica Locke’s Black Water Rising introduces Houston attorney Jay Porter. It’s 1981, and Porter is a trying to make a name and reputation for himself. It’s not easy to get big, important cases when one’s just starting out, and Porter’s clientele isn’t exactly the ‘cream of the crop.’ In one plot thread, he gets drawn into a case when Darren Hayworth, who is a member of the Brotherhood of Longshoremen (BoL), a black union, is attacked by some thugs from the International Longshoreman’s Association (ILA), a white union. The unions are planning to integrate, but it hasn’t happened yet, and this incident could put those plans in jeopardy. What’s more, they could put the unions at a real disadvantage in an upcoming strike they are planning. The BoL often meets in a local church, whose minister, Reverend Boykins, happens to be Porter’s father-in-law. Boykins asks Porter to use his own network to find and catch the people responsible for this attack.  That way, the strike can go on as planned. As it happens, Porter knows Houston’s mayor, Cynthia Maddox. They have a rather uncomfortable past, so he’s reluctant to approach her. But he’s finally persuaded and asks for her help. It’s interesting to see how those networks draw Porter into this and another case in the novel.

And then there’s Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s Last Rituals, in which we meet Reykjavík attorney Thóra Gudmundsdóttir. One day, she gets a call from Germany, from a woman named Amelia Guntlieb. Her son, Harald, was attending the university in Reykjavík when he was murdered. His friend, Hugi Thórisson, has been arrested for the crime, and the police are convinced that he is guilty. But the Guntlieb family isn’t sure that’s true. So, they want Thóra to look into the case and find out who really killed Harald. At first, Thóra isn’t sure how anyone from Germany would know who she is, and that she speaks fluent German. But then, Amelia says that one of Thóra’s professors (she studied law in Germany) is a family friend and recommended her. It turns out to be a small world, and that connection draws Thóra into a difficult murder case.

It’s often surprising to think of how many connections we have. It really is a small world in a lot of ways. And that can be a very useful thing when you’re writing a crime novel.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Huey Lewis & the News’ Small World. And you thought I was going to use the Disney song!

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Attica Locke, Cathy Ace, Paul Levine, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

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