I like to read series in order. I can learn the primary characters and follow their development professionally and personally. Occasionally I will read a book later in a series. Usually it is because of a reading challenge or because it is involved in an Award where I read the shortlist. Only once have I read a series in reverse order. It is Paul Goldstein’s series of legal mysteries featuring intellectual property lawyer, Michael Seeley. I started reading the series with the third, Havana Requiem, because it won the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction and went on to the second, A Patent Lie. My last two posts have formed a review of the first book in the series, Errors and Omissions.
(This post does not include spoilers that disclose the resolution of the three mysteries but it does provide details from all of the books. Someone reading them in order would be best advised not to read the post until they have concluded the series.)
I want to discuss the impact of reading the Michael Seeley series in reverse order.
Few lawyers in real life return to firms they have asked to leave because of their problems. It was with some surprise as I read Havana Requiem to learn that Seeley had come back to the large New York City firm – Boone, Bancroft – that had sent him away for alcohol abuse.
It would have been shocking to learn of his return if I had read Errors and Omissions before Havana Requiem. In the opening of Errors and Omissions Seeley is out of control. He drinks two tumblers of gin before going to court for a settlement conference.
While he does his best to stop drinking for the balance of the book he is not receiving professional assistance and is trying to quit on his own. His efforts are not enough to convince the firm to keep him. How can they trust him not to return to the bottle?
As well Seeley was disillusioned with the stress and financial demands of big firm practice. It was not a surprise in A Patent Lie the he had returned to his roots in Buffalo to be a solo practictioner working on the modest needs of individual clients.
He is drawn back to major litigation in A Patent Lie when he is asked to be lead trial counsel on a huge AIDS patent case in California.
I can understand his old firm’s interest in him after his success in California but many firms would not take the risk of his return. I admire the fictional firm for giving him another chance.
In Havana Requiem Seeley is caught up in a quest to regain the music rights for black Cuban composers lost since Castro took over Cuba in 1957.
While large firms will take on pro bono cases they are not known for idealism. Seeley sees a cause not merely a case.
I would have better understood the depths of his commitment to artists had I started with Errors and Omissions where he was anxious to take a case to trial on the moral rights of artists to control their works after sale. His eagerness to set a precedent prevented him from advising a client to accept a reasonable settlement.
In Errors and Omissions he is willing to turn away from a million dollar fee to help an author of movie screenplays blacklisted by Hollywood in the 1950’s.
A Patent Lie involves commercial law. While Seeley remains an idealist the plot does not relate to artists.
Real life lawyers are rarely in physical danger in their work. In the fictional intellectual property worlds created by Goldstein lawyers are at risk in every book.
I did not expect the violence Seeley experienced in in Havana Requiem. I would have been ready had I read the series in order.
In A Patent Lie Seeley is called out to California because the lead plaintiff lawyer in the patent action has died but two weeks before trial. Hit by a train his death has been ruled a suicide. The suspicions of mystery readers are immediately engaged.
In Errors and Omissions Seely has a pair of fights. They go poorly for him. While he is tenacious he is not a fighter. It would have been better for Seeley to have his creator provided him with a black belt in judo if his legal career was going to be so dangerous.
Havana Requiem emphasized the international nature of intellectual property law. The music written by Cuban musicians before the Revolution was being used 50 laters in American ads. The rights of the composers also involved the Cuban government of today.
In AIDS A Patent Lie vaccines have worldwide issues on availability and cost.
Errors and Ommissions set up the international issues of intellectual law expanded upon in the later books. In Errors and Omissions the opening court case was over the moral rights of artists with regard to their works after sale. In searching for precedents Seeley looked at how the issue had been dealt with in Europe.
While an interesting experience I am not planning a repeat of the reverse order reading of a series. In real life court cases I strive to organize the narrative chronologically rather than thematically. It is the way I best follow evidence. Reading the Seeley series in reverse reinforced my preference for reading a series in order. A topic for another day are authors who write a book or books in a series that are set earlier than the current state of the series.