I grew up absolutely loving John Grisham novels, and Runaway Jury was one of my all time favourite legal thrillers. I loved the insight into the complexity of the justice system and I was fascinated by the idea of manipulating the outcome not through dazzling legal arguments but rather by controlling the ‘ordinary people’ tasked to make the decision. I haven’t read a lot of legal thrillers in a while, but Steve Cavanagh’s Thirteen reminded me of why I loved them so much in the first place.
In Runaway Jury, the trial was about the tobacco industry and the jury infiltration raised questions about corporate responsibility, government regulation and other larger scale justice issues. Cavanagh’s novel takes a different slant and introduces us to a serial killer who joins juries in order to manipulate the outcome on murders. Thirteen is the fourth in the Eddie Flynn series about a con man turned lawyer, and in this novel, Eddie is hired to defend a famous actor accused of murdering his wife and her lover in their bed. As Eddie and his colleagues investigate the murder, they realize that there may be ties to other murders in other cities, and that the real killer may be in the courtroom with them. I thought that the psychological profile on the killer’s motives could have been fleshed out a bit better (calling the team from Criminal Minds!), but overall, I found the killer and his infiltration of the justice system to be chilling.
I couldn’t put this book down and devoured it in a couple of days. I loved the legal tactics from Eddie and the prosecuting attorney, and the drama of their courtroom theatrics. I love the strategy that went into building and delivering their cases, and I was fascinated by the spot-on analysis of jury consultant Arnold Novoselic. The courtroom scenes and legal strategy meetings took me right back to me as a teenager when I was devouring John Grisham books and dreaming of becoming a lawyer myself.
I also loved the scenes from the serial killer’s perspective. He’s totally messed up and his priorities are definitely screwy, and it was fun to imagine who he was impersonating on the jury. I like that Cavanagh gives us a bit of insight into his childhood which gives some clarity to his motives without actually making him a sympathetic character. He’s pure evil, and almost gleeful in his cat-and-mouse game with Eddie Flynn. He’s a compelling villain, one for whom the game’s the thing, and it was fun to see how he reacts to finally meeting his match.
Thirteen reminds me of Grisham at his best, with the added thrill of a serial killer twist. It’s just pure fun, and highly recommended for fans of legal thrillers.
Thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.