JUDGETHEBOOK Bum Luck By Paul Levine Published by Thomas & Mercer 332 pages Reviewed by Andrew Findley “I’ve long believed it’s best to have a client I like, a cause that’s just, and a check that doesn’t bounce,” criminal defense attorney Jake Lassiter says in Paul Levine’s novel Bum Luck. If you’re looking for a delightful, briskly- paced page-turner with a touch of social commentary, Bum Luck handily fills the bill. Levine, a former trial lawyer, has written an atmospheric legal novel that’s like crime noir set in sultry south Florida. It begins with a bang, with Lassiter immediately wanting to kill his client after a jury declared him not guilty of murder, thanks to Florida’s “Stand your Ground” law. Lassiter refers to himself as “the guy you call when you’re guilty as hell.” But he is haunted by remorse after clearing his client, NFL star Marcus “Thunder” Thurston, who’s accused of killing his wife. Then the victim’s father threatens to kill both Lassiter and his client. Set in the “…steam-room, shirt- sticky, withering heat” of summer in Miami, Thurston plays for the Dolphins, while Lassiter once warmed the team’s bench as a second-string linebacker before going to law school at night. “My face, now as craggy as Mount Rushmore, had once attracted fishnet-stockinged groupies in low-end cities of the AFC, primarily Cleveland and Buffalo,” Lassiter says as he ponders his past. He’s not exactly a beacon for “truth, justice and redemption” either, having once been publicly censured by the Florida Supreme Court and sent to anger management therapy for punching a client. That incident also lost him a job with a well- respected defense firm, although he’s 44 x The Trial Lawyer now back in their good graces in an “of counsel” capacity. “The firm needed a trial lawyer,” Lassiter says. As a result, Jake has to take an awful insurance company case that pits him against two of his closest friends and fellow lawyers, Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord. But Lassiter has his own, perhaps peculiar sense of justice. Then the prosecutor who lost to him in the Thurston case, Stacy Strickstein, claims Lassiter bribed a juror, and calls a grand jury to indict him. One of the former jurors claims Lassiter left $1,000 in cash in the glove compartment of his car, and later gave him another $24,000 in cash that just happens to have Lassiter’s fingerprints on the bills. And when Lassiter goes to his friend, State Attorney Ray Pincher, to tell him that Strickstein’s dirty, Pincher reveals she’s out for both of them because she wants Pincher’s job. While Lassiter struggles with morality and motivation, another question is whether he suffers from brain damage — chronic traumatic encephalopathy — from the multiple concussions he sustained from hard knocks playing high school, college and professional football. That possibility leaves the reader wondering if Jake isn’t going to extremes because of possible CTE and the throbbing headaches with which he suffers. But perhaps his biggest weakness (or virtue) is that he cares more about justice than winning. In addition to being an intricate and interesting legal novel, Bum Luck also focuses on the sacrifices and long-term medical threats football players face after suffering so many concussions and questions whether the game is worth the toll it extracts from its players. Levine’s gift for colorful writing (“Miami in the summer is basically uninhabitable except for insects and reptiles… and lawyers, if that’s not redundant.”) adds to the spicy, savory flavor of the book. The dialogue crackles with insight, humor and authenticity. He also weaves a complex narrative, and his detailed descriptions of the characters and the setting add to the visceral feel. Will Jake go to jail on the trumped- up bribery charges? Are his questionable actions a result of the brain damage he suffered from his football career, and could CTE explain why he’d want to kill his former client? Bum Luck not only gives you all that and more to consider, but also provides a richly satisfying story about a lawyer facing lifelong consequences that are quickly catching up to him.