Lion Plays Rough: A Leo Maxwell Mystery
Leo Maxwell was the somewhat unlikely hero introduced in 2013’s BEAR IS BROKEN as a newly minted attorney in the long and deep shadow of his older, smarter and more experienced brother, Terry. In the snake pit of San Francisco’s criminal court system, Terry was King Cobra until his career was cut prematurely short when an attempt on his life resulted in permanent and incapacitating brain damage. LION PLAYS ROUGH, author Lachlan Smith’s sequel to BEAR IS BROKEN, brings the brothers back with their roles (while not totally reversed) somewhat shifted, as Leo attempts to take over his brother’s practice --- or at least assist Jeanie, Terry’s ex-wife and legal partner --- while getting bruised, figuratively and literally, in the process.
"No one is presently writing a series quite like this one, which moves into unexpected places in unpredictable ways. Smith is creating and following his own rules in LION PLAYS ROUGH, and the results are impressive."
Leo is not a physically tough guy, and while he is of demonstrable intelligence with an excellent grasp of the law, he quickly learns that there are other elements involved in building and maintaining a successful law practice. Among these would be knowing which clients to pick and which cases to try, both of which come back to haunt him repeatedly from beginning to end. One is a client accused of raping a teenage girl; Leo takes the case to a trial he cannot win and, worse, does not want to win. The other is somewhat more complex and forms most of the heart of the book. A mysterious woman hires Leo to defend her brother, who is incarcerated pending trial on a murder charge. She also presents Leo with an even bigger case, involving large-scale corruption in the Oakland Police Department.
There are a couple of problems, however. One is that the so-called evidence of wrongdoing isn’t quite what it is supposed to be. The other is that the client who Leo is representing knows nothing about him, and the sister who retained Leo does not exist. The man already has an attorney, a well-known criminal lawyer of dubious reputation. However, when he is murdered in his jail cell, Leo feels duty-bound to nose around. He soon finds himself framed for murder. Worse, he has a price on his head, figuratively and literally, with both the police and the criminal element in the Bay Area. Somebody seems to have it in for Leo, and when he finds out who is behind it all, he can hardly believe it. And he may not survive it.
Smith is an attorney himself, having done at one time in his career yeoman’s work in the Public Defender’s office. While he has freely admitted elsewhere that the practices of most attorneys are less exciting than Leo’s, the day-to-day difficulties of private practice that Leo faces ring true here, as do the situations one encounters when dealing with a loved one with a significant impairment. This series defies easy classification; while it would be convenient to lump these books with legal thrillers --- and, indeed, they share some common elements with that genre --- Leo’s concerns and difficulties extend far beyond the courtroom, where it appears that he has yet to fully reach his potential.
No one is presently writing a series quite like this one, which moves into unexpected places in unpredictable ways. Smith is creating and following his own rules in LION PLAYS ROUGH, and the results are impressive.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on February 21, 2014