The Big Thrill sat down with Paul Levine to discuss BUM RAP, his new legal thriller (Thomas & Mercer July 1). “BUM RAP brings together the protagonists from Levine’s series: Jake Lassiter, the linebacker-turned-lawyer, and Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord, squabbling Miami law partners. In a starred review, Booklist calls the novel, “an irresistible Florida crime romp.”
Paul, has it really been twenty-five years since Jake Lassiter burst onto the crime fiction scene with your first novel, To Speak for the Dead?
Is that a polite way of saying Jake’s old…or that I am?
Only that the Lassiter novels are one of the longest running series in contemporary crime fiction. To what do you attribute their longevity?
Maybe because readers grow attached to characters and want to know what becomes of them after the caper ends. Think of the long careers of Lew Archer and Travis McGee or Kinsey Millhone and Stephanie Plum. And I haven’t even mentioned Sherlock Holmes. In Lassiter’s case, I like to think that his values are timeless.
“I have old habits, old friends and old values. I don’t tweet or blog or order pizza with arugula on top. I don’t have a life coach or an aroma therapist, and I sure as hell don’t do Pilates. I’m so un-hip that I could soon become trendy, like skinny ties and pants that stop at the ankles.”—Jake Lassiter
In BUM RAP, Lassiter defends Steve Solomon, who’s accused of killing a Russian club owner on South Beach. Pretty quickly, Lassiter begins to doubt his client’s story. Did that frequently happen to you as a lawyer?
I always assumed my clients were guilty. It saved time.
Is it true that a real federal case in Miami was the inspiration for the novel?
True. Beautiful bar-girls were luring men to joints owned by Russian mobsters. The bar-girls would get the guys drunk and run up thousands of dollars in credit card charges for cheap Champagne, proving once again that men—as a group—have the I.Q. of mollusks.
While defending Solomon, Lassiter falls for Victoria Lord, his client’s law partner and lover. That’s a problem for a lawyer, right?
A blatant conflict of interest. If he loses the case and Solomon goes to prison, Lassiter has a clear path to the end zone, by which I mean Victoria Lord.
Would you say that Lassiter’s ethical standards are somewhat flexible?
He cuts some corners.
“That’s called extortion, Mr. Lassiter.”
“No, it’s not. It’s called lawyering.”
And he doesn’t seem to agree with that sign in the courtroom above the judge’s bench. “We who labor here seek only the truth.”
Because it’s not true! The judge wants to get re-elected. The jurors want to beat the traffic home. And all the lawyers want is to win.
For a trial lawyer, Lassiter seems to get in a lot of fistfights. While snooping around that bar-girl club, he gets into it with the bouncer. Is this common practice for lawyers in Miami?
Buckle your chin strap. In Lassiter’s world, the law is a contact sport.
“I’m not one of those lonely warriors of the courtroom, righting wrongs wherever I find them, blah, blah, blah. I’m just an ex-jock wading through the muck of the so-called justice system. I don’t even mind getting dirty as long as the stains come out.”—Jake Lassiter
How would you describe the theme of the Lassiter novels?
“Theme?” What is this, eleventh grade English?
C’mon, Jake, I mean Paul. You know what I’m asking.
Okay. Once you get past Jake’s cynicism and rueful outlook, you have this. True justice is nearly impossible to achieve. But it’s damn sure worth pursuing. And rough justice is better than none at all.
And by “rough justice” you mean…?
A murderer beats the rap but takes the fall for a crime he didn’t commit. That’s an oversimplification, but you get the idea. Or it can be vigilante justice or personal retribution. Hey, I didn’t say rough justice was pretty.
“In court, mostly I lose. Or plead my guy guilty. It’s a dirty little secret, but that’s the deal with most criminal defense lawyers, even the big names who pontificate on CNN. If the clients knew our real winning percentage, they’d cop a quick plea or flee the jurisdiction.” —Jake Lassiter
What prompted you to do a crossover with your two series?
Creative genius, obviously.
Actually, I heard Michael Connelly was bringing Harry Bosch together with the Lincoln Lawyer and figured it must be a smart idea.
I’m betting you’re a fan of the Lincoln Lawyer.
Of course, I am. But we’re not here to talk about Mike’s books. He doesn’t need the dough. Next, you’ll be asking me about Bob Dugoni.
Speaking of Bob…
I knew it!
The two of you have similar backgrounds. You’re both lawyer-novelists who write crime fiction. You were both published by major New York houses. And now you’re both with Thomas & Mercer, an Amazon company. How do you like the new world of publishing?
I’m sure Bob would agree that it’s great working with T&M. It’s actually a cooperative venture with the author being involved in every step from editing to cover design to publicity.
What’s next for Paul Levine?
Mixing the perfect gin and tonic. Making ice cubes from the tonic water helps.
The author of nineteen novels, Paul Levine won the John D. MacDonald fiction award and was nominated for the Edgar, Macavity, International Thriller, Shamus, and James Thurber prizes. A former trial lawyer, he also wrote more than twenty episodes of the CBS military drama JAG and co-created the Supreme Court drama First Monday starring James Garner and Joe Mantegna. He lives in Miami.