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Thursday, July 9, 2015


4 stars out of 5

One of the free and low-cost book services to which I belong offered this one free back in March. The description sounded interesting, the reviews were decent, and it was a Best Book of the Month and a No. 1 Best Seller in the Legal Thriller category at Amazon. Besides that, the author has some serious writing chops (including several other books and more than 20 episodes of the JAG TV show on CBS (that alone upped him a few notches on my admiration scale - I really enjoyed that show).

Besides that, this book is subtitled "Jimmy ("Royal") Payne Legal Thriller Book 1, and I'm always looking for new, solid series to fall back on when nothing much else on my to-read list turns me on.

When I finally got around to starting it, I learned that it features a down-but-not-out semi-sleazy lawyer who defends low-life, has an ex-wife he still loves, judges and other law enforcement folks who hate his guts and a vendetta against the man who killed his son in a hit-and-run...stop me if you've heard this one before. Shortly thereafter, I came across this tidbit:

"The Jack Daniels swirled between the ice cubes like molten lava through porous rocks." 

Uh-oh, I said to myself - this could be a huge mistake. 

Thankfully, that wasn't the case; in fact, the writing is excellent and the story turned out to be interesting (if a titch on the predictable side). It begins as Jimmy is coerced into bribing a crooked judge; he's successful, but the fallout puts Jimmy in the cross hairs of his peers on just about every side of the desk. Meanwhile, his ex-wife, a police officer, is engaged to a talk-circuit blowhard who blasts Mexican illegals every chance he gets (the setting is California, where large numbers cross the border every day).

Shift gears to the other side of the line, where a beautiful Mexican mother and her 12-year-old son who are trying to get into the United States become separated. Jimmy, who's on the warpath to find the Mexican man who was responsible for his son's death, bumps into the boy and ultimately promises to help find the missing mother. Now, with the boy in tow, Jimmy is running not only from the U.S. cops - a warrant has been issued for his arrest - but also some rather nasty Mexicans intent on putting him six feet under (maybe less depending on how much time they have). The chase leads to a powerful ranch owner who has his hands in everyone's pocket - and who may not be the upstanding businessman he makes himself out to be. Will Jimmy find the boy's mother and the man who killed his son before he gets himself thrown in jail (or worse)?  

The only real complaint I have is that the transitions need some serious work - switcheroos from setting to setting happen with little warning (one, in fact, occurred in the same paragraph). And while I know the boy had a tough life and gained street smarts, he seems wise way beyond his years when it comes to knowledge of all things American (heck, even at my advanced age I have no clue how to find porn channels on TV or work someone else's iPod with zero instruction). 

All in all, though, it's an enjoyable adventure, and everything gets wrapped up by the end. At that point, I was left with a bit of a puzzle. The book is listed under the "Stand-alone" section of the author's writings, which suggests it's not, in fact, the first of a series. So why does the subtitle call it "Book 1?" Hmm - inquiring minds want to know.

Illegal by Paul Levine (Nittany Valley Productions Inc., March 2014); 386 pp.

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