The Defence | Steve Cavanagh | 2016 | Orion | 320p | Review copy | Buy the book
Eddie Flynn, once a hustler and then a lawyer, swore a year ago that he would never enter a courtroom again. But when local Russian mafia leader Olek Volchek straps a bomb round Eddie’s chest and kidnaps his ten-year-old daughter, Eddie is forced to re-evaluate his choices. Volchek is on trial, thanks to one of his men turning informant, becoming Witness X in the process. Eddie is given two days to have Volchek’s case thrown out of court. To be fair, Eddie isn’t Volchek’s first choice but the first lawyer he tried failed the test and now his severed head is being used as further leverage to get Eddie to act more sensibly and do what he’s told. And so Eddie and his client enter the courtroom, surrounded by mafia gang members and a courtroom of police and FBI, not all of whom can be trusted. Actually, Eddie would be unwise to trust a soul.
Eddie, for all his faults, was a fine lawyer and fortunately, despite the year’s absence, it’s like riding a bicycle and his skill is quick to return, especially his talent for cross-examination. But all the time Eddie is focused on one thing and one thing only – his daughter Amy. Volchek might be the one holding the detonator but Eddie is a man with everything to fight for. It soon becomes clear that there is an awful lot more going on than Eddie and even Volchek could have predicted. If anyone survives the fallout as the deadline arrives it’ll be a miracle.
The Defence is one of the most exhilarating reads I’ve had in quite a while. The tension is thrown at us from the very first page and it never lets up as the clock ticks and the deadline threatens. Eddie is an immensely likeable character who always has something to say – often with his tongue in his cheek – and the fact that the story is told in his own words ups the intensity while bringing us closer and closer to a man who will do anything, absolutely anything, to save his daughter. And while this might be a courtroom drama, a fair amount of the action takes place outside it, elsewhere in the building during breaks. Eddie never gets any rest and it’s a fair bet that neither does the reader.
The brilliantly clever, hugely entertaining and complex story is presented in vivid colour – it really does have the feel of a movie to me. This is an action thriller and the urgent prose fits. Its structure is remarkable and quite a feat. Steve Cavanagh controls his characters perfectly. I loved the combination of courtroom drama and thriller, of wit and action. It might be an exhausting read but it’s a huge amount of fun, certainly far more fun than I would ever have expected from a novel set in a courtroom. I love it when a book defies all expectations.