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Onyx reviews: The Tenth Case by Joseph Teller

The Tenth Case starts with two conceits that make the book seem less serious than it really is. First off, there's the protagonist's name: Jaywalker, which seems patently absurd. What self-respecting lawyer would willingly adopt the name of a petty crime? Secondly, there's Jaywalker's status—on the verge of suspension because of his habit of playing fast and loose with the rules of courtroom procedure (and because he was caught in flagrante with a VERY thankful client at the courthouse).

Facing a prolonged hiatus from his lifelong career, Jaywalker requests that he be allowed to finish out his open cases. The board limits him to ten, but it's a Scheherazade bargain—the tenth case is a murder trial that will delay his suspension for months, perhaps years.

Though he will admit (to readers) that he isn't averse to playing tricks and grandstanding to win, his approach works. Where other defense attorneys trumpet 50% winning records, Jaywalker wins 90% of his cases--and it's because he is determined to win at all costs that he is successful, and in trouble.

The tenth case involves an Anna Nicole Smith-like defendant, a beautiful young woman who willingly embraces her origins as trailer trash. After escaping a childhood of abuse and destitution, she fell in love with and married one of the richest men on the planet, forty years her senior.

Eight years into the relationship, which is now more of a marriage of convenience, Barry Tannenbaum is murdered, and the only viable suspect is his widow, the alluring Samara, known as Sam.

It's obvious that Joseph Teller spent decades as a defense attorney. Parts of the novel read like a trial transcript, and Jaywalker (via Teller) reveals the inner workings of a murder trial with the gleeful panache of someone who has been there and done that.

Jaywalker is a delightfully flawed character, a widow with a strained relationship with his daughter and an addiction to Kalhua. He is obviously enamored of his final client, but strong enough to avoid falling into the trap of sleeping with her, perhaps.

The farther the trial proceeds, though, the less likely it seems that Jaywalker can pull off a miracle. He's not certain that his client is telling him the truth, and he desperately doesn't want to go out a loser.

Jaywalker could be a distant cousin of Michael Connelly's lawyer, Mickey Haller. It is because he is such an engaging character that the book works as well as it does. The ending gambit plays like something out of a Perry Mason episode, and strains the plot's credibility (quite honestly, the final reveal is a trainwreck that doesn't stand up to close scrutiny) but Teller has himself a winner with Jaywalker and I look forward to BRONX JUSTICE, the next book featuring his delightful protagonist.

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