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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Felony Murder by Joseph T. Klempner (1995)

(13. – 645.) Felony Murder by Joseph T. Klempner (1995) – Dean Abernathy is making a living as a New York City criminal defence lawyer. With most of his clients indigent he receives modest fees from the government. He effectively functions without a secretary.

He stays busy steadily disposing of the variety of cases coming his way. At the same time he is unusual in crime fiction and, for many lawyers in real life, by regularly taking time away from the office. On a quiet day he may go climbing. He might spend a weekend in the mountains skiing. He has a balance in his life.

His life changes when he is assigned the defence of Joey Spadafino, a street person, charged with felony murder of the Police Commissioner, Edward Wilson. The charge differs from the conventional murder charge in that Spadafino is not charged with having intended to kill the Commissioner. Instead, the charge results from the Commissioner dying from a heart attack in the midst of an alleged robbery by Spadafino.

With a signed confession and two eye witnesses Abernathy sees it will be a difficult defence.

He approaches the case diligently testing, weighing, assessing and considering the admissibility of each piece of evidence. The first half of the book is a legal procedural, the equivalent of the police procedural featuring the police following clues and assembling evidence.

The legal process is well described. Abernathy takes a closer look at the confession after hearing from his client and confirming from a video statement that Spadafino asserts that he did not threaten the Commissioner but only stole money from him when he had collapsed and was laying on the ground.

Gradually Abernathy, working alone, finds weaknesses in the State’s case or contradictory information. He reminds me of my practice where clients cannot afford investigators and multiple lawyers. It is Abernathy and Spadafino fighting the State.

Even with this major case occupying much of his time Abernathy continues to deal with numerous other cases. Michael Connelly, to a degree, has Mickey Haller, especially in The Lincoln Lawyer, involved with multiple cases but Klempner does it better as Abernathy deals with other files right through the preparation for the murder trial.

There are remarkable descriptions from Spadafino on what life is like in prison on months of remand. There have been lots of books and T.V. shows and movies discussing accused being held in Rikkers and the Tombs but none have done it better than Klempner.

Unfortunately, the book turned from a legal procedural to a conspiracy. The basis for the conspiracy against Spadafino was unconvincing from the start. It is hard to present a credible conspiracy. Klempner’s conspiracy became less credible as it progressed.

If Klempner had continued with the legal procedural or even a minor conspiracy he could have had a great book. The book he wrote reminded me of too many Hollywood movies where a grand conspiracy is deemed necessary to create drama.

Klempner, a practicing lawyer and former undercover agent for the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, has written several other books. Because the first half of the book was done so well I think I will try another of his books.

As well, he does provide an explanation I had not considered for how famous court cases are described in the media. If the victim is prominent the case will be named for the victim. In the book it was the Wilson case. If the victim is obscure the case will be know by the name of the accused. It applies accurately in real life when you think of well known cases. (Mar. 4/12)

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