Book Review: The Trial Lawyer, a Legal Thriller by John Ellsworth

The Bottom Line: The Trial Lawyer has everything you could ask for in a legal thriller – edgy courtroom drama, an intrepid defense attorney and a volatile client whose behavior threatens to collapse his own case like a house of cards. The book firmly establishes Ellsworth among an elite group of legal thriller authors.

The Trial Lawyer by John EllsworthThe ninth installment of John Ellsworth’s Thaddeus Murfee Series finds the defense attorney taking the case of an unlikely client – District Attorney Killen Erwin. Near the town of Orbit, which locals proudly call the Pork Capital of the World, it seems that DA Erwin may have wrecked his truck while under the influence. In a crash so devastating that it caused “a farmer two miles north to sit up in bed,” Erwin is charged with the negligent homicide of a passenger.

Thaddeus has his work cut out for him, as there’s little doubt that Erwin was drunk. Immediately prior to the crash, Erwin had caused a scene at a local bar where his wife, Mary Roberta, was openly seducing another man. But it’s not as simple as it seems. Erwin blacked out, his passenger offered to drive, and a mysterious third person was seen fleeing the scene of the crime.

Was Erwin really driving at the time of the accident? Who was the third person on the scene? As Thaddeus searches for the answer to those questions and others, he’s ambushed in the courthouse restroom. As a neurologist, maxillofacial surgeon, orthopedic surgeon, and an internist struggle to keep the intrepid defense attorney alive, a shocking murder casts another shadow on the case.

While The Trial Lawyer features a first-rate plot, it’s actually the writing that distinguishes it from others in the genre. Ellsworth establishes a timeless setting that – aside from a 2014 edition of Field & Stream magazine – could take place in virtually any decade. In the book’s opening pages, Ellsworth establishes a vintage tone with a scene straight out of 1950s pulp fiction: Erwin, cuckolded by his wife at a local bar, smashes a bottle of whiskey and is soon the target of a bat-wielding barkeep. Throughout, the plot is sprinkled with classic small town tropes as well as ageless brands like Mustang and the Rolling Stones. And despite a fair amount of legal maneuvering, the theme of family is prevalent in virtually every chapter. But despite all this literary comfort food, Ellsworth’s story is somehow original and fresh, and Thaddeus’ mission thoroughly right and relevant. Highly recommended.

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Bella Wright

Bella Wright blogs about books, film and media.

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