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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
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