By Derek Gunn
…and this is in the very first chapter. I read this one in two sittings, in fact my son was lucky to get collected at all. I don’t normally read court room thrillers, although this can’t really be described as taking place in the court room. It takes place in and around the complex working of the US legal system. The killing of six Justices has left a huge hole in the legal system and the investigation is ongoing through a combined task force of FBI, Homeland Security etc., but little head way is being made.
The motives for the killing range from personal grudges, illicit affairs, a divorce that could mean millions being lost, and cases where any delay in the hearing of the case will allow certain undesirable elements to sell their assets and hide billions. The story is set firmly within the judiciary system and, as such, can be in danger of either growing too complex or suffering from large information dumps. Luckily, these complexities are handled with aplomb by Anthony Franze and we get a highly readable story with a breakneck pace.
Once the Justices are assassinated the story introduces Solicitor General Jefferson McKenna who quickly shifts from being the government’s top lawyer in the Supreme Court to being the main suspect in the murder of his one-time clerk. The motive appears to be around an alleged bribe taken a few years previously. McKenna is also involved in the investigation into the murder of the Justices and the police quickly trace a line of enquiry for those murders to McKenna’s door. The situation deteriorates rapidly and McKenna quickly becomes the number one suspect for all the murders. I will not give anything else away of the plot, suffice to say that the book was excellent.
It reminded me of early Robert Ludlum, ‘The Chancellor Manuscript’ comes to mind in particular. I do not mean that the story is similar in any way, it most certainly isn’t, but the style, the pace and the easy to read prose reminded me of Ludlum. As Ludlum was, and continues to be, my favourite author in this field, yes, I know he died ten years ago – but I have yet to find a worthy successor, this is high praise from me.
The book is short, though. Ludlum would have given me four hundred pages plus while this one is two hundred and thirty or so, I was reading this on Kindle so it may be more in print. I could have happily read another two hundred pages.
The plotline of the murders continues on while Congress continue to draw battle lines over who will replace the slain justices, not an easy decision as you will come to know as you read through the book. McKenna remains on the run as he desperately tries to track down a disgraced law clerk with ties to hidden Saudi assets. His search unearths unexpected alliances, dark secrets and corruption at the highest levels—and the people with clues to the riddle keep turning up dead.
One thing I particularly liked about this book was that Anthony Franze managed to set his story in a very complex setting and never once did I feel lectured to or lost in the complexities. The story included all the detail I needed without wading through paragraph after paragraph of explanations.
Anthony very kindly agreed to answer a few questions;
Okay, you’re a lawyer, an adjunct Professor, an author of many scholarly works and now grabbing the fiction bestseller lists by the throat – where do you get the time?
You give me too much credit — it actually took me several years to finish THE LAST JUSTICE. I have a busy law practice and three children, so writing the book was a long-term project. Finding the time (and energy) to put pen to paper was a challenge, but we all find time to do things we love, so I just came up with a system that worked for me: a lot of coffee and forcing myself to turn on the computer after my children and wife went to bed. Much of the novel was written between the hours of 11pm and 3am. I used dead time on airplanes or trains during business trips to edit. And then, one day, there was a complete first draft — followed by more editing than I care to think about.
How do you write? Do you have a ritual, do you plan out every detail or do you see where the story leads?
I approached THE LAST JUSTICE the way I approach my legal writing — I immersed myself in research, made a general outline, and took it a section at a time so as not to get overwhelmed. Whenever I was on a roll and the ideas were flowing, I wrote as much as possible, saving all editing for later. Back when I taught legal writing, I would have my students study a writing process known as “Madman, Architect, Carpenter, Judge.” I think it has some virtues in fiction writing and would encourage any budding suspense writer to check it out.
I must admit to knowing little of the American legal system before I began the book, other than what I have seen from TV. You managed to educate me while still being entertaining which is never easy, especially when the details are complex and form the very basis of the plot. Was this foremost in your mind when writing?
I’m so happy to hear that. My main goal was to craft a fun, fast-paced thriller. But I also hoped to take readers into the insular worlds of some great U.S. institutions, like the Supreme Court. I tried to strike the right balance of providing the facts, law, and history that I thought were interesting, but without sounding like a legal practice treatise or travel guide to Washington, D.C.
The book runs over a tight timeframe and the pace is excellent throughout. Have you written short stories to hone your craft or is this your first attempt at fiction?
This is my first published work of fiction — but that doesn’t mean it is my first effort at fiction writing. I have a desk drawer (hard drive, really) filled with many unfinished (or un-publishable) efforts at fiction.
What are your views on the eBook phenomena — is it a help or a hindrance?
I think any platform that gives writers the opportunity to share their work is a good thing, so I’m all for it.
If you were given one paragraph to convince people to buy your novel what would it say?
This is cheating, but I probably would just quote what bestselling author Gayle Lynds said about the book: “Bristling with fascinating insider details, THE LAST JUSTICE by Anthony J. Franze is a rare legal thriller — authentic, exciting, and beautifully written. From little-seen Supreme Court chambers to elite boardrooms and darkened bedrooms, you’ll be swept along on a tidal wave of suspense. Watch out, John Grisham — Franze has arrived, and he’s damn good!”
In between work and writing do you have any time to read? Who do you enjoy most?
The beauty of taking the subway to work each day is that it gives me precious reading time. I’m a fan of too many thriller authors to give a complete list here, though nearly all appear on the member rolls of the International Thriller Writers. Outside the genre, I love Cormac McCarthy and, for non-fiction, anything by David McCullough.
I’m working on a non-fiction book about the Supreme Court. I have a second novel in the works, but it is too early to see where the 3am haze will take the story, so stay tuned!
THE LAST JUSTICE is released on February 7th and is well worth the money. This is a great read; with believable characters, a plot that is set firmly in the real world and language that will carry you along like a fast running stream. It is a hardback release and will add nicely to any collection of superior thrillers that you may have. Personally I’d prefer if Anthony shelved the non-fiction book project and concentrated on the next novel. I want to read more, and therein lies the best endorsement I can think of.
Anthony J. Franze is a lawyer in the Appellate and Supreme Court practice at a large Washington, D.C. law firm. In addition to his law practice, he is an adjunct professor of law, teaching courses in Federal Courts and Appellate Practice. Franze is a magna cum laude graduate of Notre DameLawSchool and the author of numerous scholarly works. He lives with his wife and three children in Chevy Chase, Maryland. The Last Justice is his first novel. You can find more information and updates on his brand new web site at www.anthonyfranzebooks.com
Visit Derek at: www.derekgunn.com.