Courtroom drama at its finest


Book Title: Thirteen
ISBN: 9781409170679
Author: Steve Cavanagh
Publisher : Orion Publishing Co
Publication Year: 2018
Price: RM49.90

The hook for Thirteen is ‘the serial killer isn’t on trial, he’s on the jury‘. It’s a tantalising statement that makes you want to find out how the story will play out. How could you not be at least somewhat intrigued?

But Steve Cavanagh’s “Thirteen” is no gimmick. It’s a superb action-packed story that melds the legal thriller with the serial killer subgenre, featuring intriguing character studies of both heroes and villains and a perceptive look at the legal system.

Eddie Flynn sees a lot of similarities between his old life as a con man and his career as a lawyer, especially in dealing with juries. But the main difference is that Eddie is now scrupulously honest, willing to take on anyone, including corrupt cops.

As a result, his practice is rather low-rent. His apartment is his office, and he advertises on the side of a hot-dog cart. He’s stunned when high-powered attorney Rudy Carp wants him to join the team defending up-and-coming actor Bobby Solomon, who’s accused of killing his wife, the popular actress Ariella Bloom, and Carl Tozer, the couple’s chief of security. The victims were found murdered in bed in the actors’ Manhattan home.

Although the evidence suggests that Bobby killed them in a jealous rage, Eddie believes his client may be innocent, while also recognising that the young man is a gifted actor. But a brilliant defence may not be enough to get an acquittal.

Some literal courtroom sleight of hand and sharp questioning by Eddie throws doubt on the seemingly airtight case of the prosecution, but Flynn’s best chance is to identify another killer.

His ex-FBI investigator Harper and her contact in the Bureau’s Behavioral Analysis Unit provide a solid lead — a serial killer who has remained hidden by framing others for his crimes.

Joshua Kane, a serial killer whose MO is killing individuals, then framing someone for their murders has targeted the trial and goes about dispatching would-be jurors until he gets to be an alternate — number 13 — though that doesn’t last long.

Once actually on the jury, he will make sure to get a guilty verdict — by any means. From within the jury, the ruthless Kane is able to discredit or kill the fellow jurors who won’t vote his way.

The number 13 becomes a chilling totem as Eddie begins to put together evidence and clues. “Thirteen” seamlessly alternates from the viewpoints of Eddie and Kane. Cavanagh shows how the highly intelligent Kane became a killer, yet the author never wants the reader to feel empathy or sympathy for him. Kane’s self-assuredness makes him forget the rule of never conning a con man.

Thirteen is full of misdirection and is a fast-paced and dark read that really ramps up towards the end. The pacing is aided by Cavanagh expertly swapping the story between Eddie Flynn and Joshua Kane. The book is written in a mixture of the first person, from Eddie’s viewpoint, and the third person, from the killer’s viewpoint. It’s a recipe that works brilliantly.

Flynn is a deep, engaging and likeable lead who you can really get behind and Kane is a cold and methodical individual, a high-functioning sociopath and a master of deception who thinks he is untouchable. There’s so much to Kane and getting to find out about him and his motivation is absolutely fascinating.

I wondered how on earth the dots would be joined, and the killer discovered, and there are plenty of unexpected twists and turns along the way.

Sharp dialogue, court scenes that crackle, well-devised red herrings and deeply sculpted characters make “Thirteen” an outstanding thriller.

Irish author Cavanagh nails the New York vibe while illustrating an affinity for American legalese. Cavanagh delves deep to show how Kane manipulates the jury and how he has stayed under the radar of law enforcement for years.

Steve Cavanagh was born and raised in Belfast before leaving for Dublin at the age of eighteen to study Law. He currently practices civil rights law and has been involved in several high profile cases; in 2010 he represented a factory worker who suffered racial abuse in the workplace and won the largest award of damages for race discrimination in Northern Ireland legal history. He holds a certificate in Advanced Advocacy and lectures on various legal subjects.

One funny thing to note about the author, he inadvertently signed up for law classes. The morning Steve was to sign up for degree classes at university in Dublin, he was severely hungover, got disoriented, and signed up to study law instead of business/marketing as he planned.


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