As the title seems to indicates, STATE VS. LASSITER is the latest installment in Paul Levine’s Jake Lassiter series. Lassiter is an effective criminal attorney --- the type we love to hate until we find ourselves being frogmarched into the local courthouse --- who doesn’t exactly bend or break the rules of justice so much as use them to his own advantage. He plies his trade as a defense lawyer in Miami-Dade County --- a fisherman goes where the fish are --- and previous volumes in this entertaining series have demonstrated that Lassiter is an extremely competent, at times even brilliant attorney, even if he is not an especially wealthy one.
STATE VS. LASSITER takes a somewhat different tack, given that the stakes for Lassiter are particularly high. This time, it is Lassiter who finds himself in the uncharacteristic position of being defended as opposed to defending someone else (that’s true, for the most part) in a jury trial, where he is charged with murder.
"Lassiter’s narrative, which oscillates between self-deprecating and wiseass (and all points in between), is so entertaining and the story so deftly plotted that you will want to read more of his adventures even before you are through."
The book begins with Lassiter sleeping on the beach the morning after a long, drunken night when nothing turned out the way it should have. That night, Lassiter is wining, dining and wooing Pamela Baylins, who just happens to be his banker. It appears that he has been doing rather well of late, broadening the scope of his practice to include real estate, thanks to having acquired a very wealthy client whose income is supposedly from the coffee business but who is rumored to be involved in less legal pursuits. He has acquired a new luxury automobile and developed a long-term relationship with Baylins, with whom he is having dinner and drinks as a prelude to a night at an expensive Miami resort when he learns that his trust accounts have been tampered with, a definite no-no for an attorney. Baylins is supposed to be supervising the accounts, so the two quarrel over the news, all the way from dinner back up to their hotel room.
Lassiter goes for a late-night walk and, thanks to his excessive consumption of alcohol that night, passes out on the beach, only to be awakened by the prodding foot of a patrolman. Loitering on the beach is the least of his problems. It is discovered in short order that Baylins, who was alive when Lassiter left her in their room, is now dead, strangled with his own belt. Half of Miami witnessed them quarreling, and there’s a pesky email that Baylins sent, indicating that he had been messing with his trust accounts. Lassiter has been set up in so many ways that it doesn’t look like he is going to beat the charges. He gets himself a fireball of an attorney who is even smarter (alright, almost as smart) as he is. It doesn’t look like it’s going to be enough until a desperate Lassiter does one of the worst things that he can possibly do. And it works. Almost.
If for some reason you have missed the previous volumes of this award-winning series, never fear. You can read STATE VS. LASSITER without knowing what has gone before, though Lassiter’s narrative, which oscillates between self-deprecating and wiseass (and all points in between), is so entertaining and the story so deftly plotted that you will want to read more of his adventures even before you are through. Levine’s recent return to Florida may well result in more of Lassiter’s adventures being told in due time. If, of course, Lassiter can get over his present difficulties. Read on and find out.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on October 4, 2013