By Steve Cavanagh
The term “legal thriller” can either tantalize you or turn you off – I’m of the former more often than not. Steve Cavanagh’s Thirteen delivers as both a tightly plotted, taut legal thriller and a highly suspenseful serial killer investigation. It’s the fourth Cavanagh novel to feature Eddie Flynn, con-man turned defense lawyer. (Some might say they are one and the same thing). The Irish Times aptly called him “Jack Reacher’s younger, hotter-headed brother.” Cavanagh’s splendid debut novel was The Defense (2016). It was followed by the absolutely smashing, The Plea (2018). A third, The Liar, was never published in the United States for reasons that, alas, remain unfathomable.
Thirteen is his best yet and its premise is a doozy: the serial killer isn’t on trial—he’s on the jury! As the story begins, serial killer Joshua Kane murders a postal worker to get his bag of jury duty summonses and then kills the juror he’s singled out to impersonate. On trial is movie star Bobby Solomon who is charged with brutally murdering his wife, Ariella Bloom, who costarred with him in a major film due for release, and his chief of security, Carl Tozera. They were found naked and dead in the master bedroom of Solomon’s Manhattan brownstone. High-powered attorney Rudy Carp (litigator to the stars) takes the defense and persuades Eddie Flynn to take second chair, calling it “The biggest murder trial that this city has ever seen.” According to Carp, the film will stay in the can and the studio will lose millions unless they can get Bobby acquitted.
They are up against a prosecutor extraordinaire, Art Pryor. In legal circles he’d been dubbed “the lone ranger”:
Art Pryor was one of the best. He had a license to practice law in around twenty states. He only did murder trials. And he always prosecuted. And he always won. For the right price—Art came to town. A DA could leave all other prosecutors to get on with the regular job—one or two would assist Art, then Art would get a conviction, put on his hat, and leave town for the next big case without upsetting the applecart. He was good too. Art practiced shotgun prosecution…. He’s devastating on his feet.
Through a series of unfortunate events, things begin to go south for Solomon and the studio pulls its financial support. Carp jumps ship and tries to get Flynn to follow suit by offering him a job at Carp Law. But Flynn, who by now believes Solomon is innocent, decides to stay the course.
Now all Flynn has to do is find the real killer. He calls on an ex-FBI agent he’s worked with, Harper: “She had good instincts. I trusted her judgement.”
She and a colleague, Joe Washington, have set up a private security and investigations outfit in Manhattan. They provide a solid lead—a serial killer who has remained hidden by framing others for his crimes. He’s known to the FBI as Dollar Bill because he leaves a distinctly marked single in the victim’s mouths.
Cavanagh juxtaposes the viewpoints of Flynn and Kane. There are plenty of page-turning twists, and a few red herrings beautifully marinated. Flynn shows himself to be a master of courtroom sleight of hand. Plus, Cavanagh has perfected the old Agatha Christie ploy of focusing your attention in one direction (the wrong one) while in plain sight palming the ace. The finale is a stunner. Thirteen is not to be missed.
—Irma Heldman is a veteran publishing executive and book reviewer with a penchant for mysteries. One of her favorite gigs was her magazine column “On the Docket” under the pseudonym O. L. Bailey.