Thursday, June 09, 2016

Why you should cop The Plea

Steve Cavanagh, seen previously in this space as author of the hyper-kinetic legal thriller The Defence (published in the U.S. as The Defense) and as an enthusiastic participant in highjinks at Crimefest, is back with The Plea, another legal thriller that is just as fast and just as much fun as both.

It's tempting to compare The Plea's construction to its protagonist's personality. That protagonist, Eddie Flynn, is a con man turned lawyer who makes good use of the tricks he learned in his former profession. Cavanagh loves to put Flynn in ticking-clock situations, making him work with a time bomb strapped to his chest in The Defence, or under the gun to avert a federal indictment hanging over his wife's head in The Plea.

Steve Cavanagh (right) in conversation with Ali Karim at Crimefest 2016. (Photo by Peter Rozovsky for Detectives Beyond Borders)
That means Flynn must do much of his legal work at the last minute and by the seat of his unpressed pants. Though he occasionally guesses wrong, Flynn is a brilliant lawyer and advocate. (Cavanagh is a lawyer in  his day job, albeit in Northern Ireland rather than in New York, where he sets the books. He knows how to convincingly capture the texture, the give and take, and the dilemmas of legal procedure.)

That's Eddie Flynn, the lawyer. Steve Cavanagh, the writer, plants twists and surprises at the end of almost every action-jammed chapter, ramping up the pressure on the characters and speeding the reader along like Eddie Flynn with a bomb on his bod. But, like Flynn, who almost always has a brilliant legal stroke lurking beneath the mayhem, Cavanagh plots his novels with great cunning, liberally sprinkling the story with small observations that bear narrative fruit many chapters later. He also knows just when to slow the action down for a bit of back story or exposition. 

Though The Plea is primarily a thriller, it has enough misdirection and wrong guesses to qualify as a mystery. More than most crime novels, it gives the lie to the silly distinction between plot-driven and character-driven.  Flynn, highly moral if ethically dubious, brilliant, subject to wrenching crises that, however, take place mainly off the page, is a lovable, admirable protagonist and pretty near an ideal hero. But the attributes would be nothing without the action, and the reverse is also true.
In addition to The Defense and The Plea, Cavanagh has a fine story in Akashic Books' Belfast Noir collection, edited by Adrian McKinty and Stuart Neville. His Eddie Flynn novella The Cross is available in the UK.

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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