Saturday, February 16, 2013

Book Review: "Bear is Broken" by Lachlan Smith

As much as I love reading new books by my favorite authors, I really enjoy finding new writers, new voices to savor. Lachlan Smith is such a find, thanks to a recommendation from Amazon. His first thriller (the start of a series), Bear is Broken, might not break any new ground, but his characters are well-drawn and compelling, and I look forward to reading his future work.

It's 1999 in San Francisco. Leo Maxwell just found out he passed his bar exam. He has always lived in the shadows of his older brother, Teddy, a defense attorney beloved by the city's criminals and reviled by the police and those in positions of authority who have crossed his path. One day while Leo, Teddy, and his entourage are at lunch, just before Teddy is supposed to deliver closing arguments in a spousal abuse trial, he is shot in the head, in the middle of a crowded restaurant. Yet the shooting is so well executed (no pun intended), the shooter gets away without anyone seeing him. And Teddy lies in a coma, with a bleak prognosis—if he even survives.

Leo realizes that because Teddy made an enemy of the police, they're not too eager to track down the shooter. Torn between wanting to become the lawyer he knows he can be—like Teddy but perhaps without the questionable ethics—and wanting to find out who tried to kill his brother, Leo starts digging into some of Teddy's cases, and finds himself coming face to face with an odd assortment of clients and others with whom Teddy had relationships. At the same time, Leo struggles with his feelings for Teddy (who took care of Leo after their father was imprisoned for their mother's murder) and unresolved feelings for Teddy's ex-wife and ex-law partner, Jeanie.

The more Leo tries to uncover the truth, the more trouble he seems to find himself in, and the more uncertainty he faces. At points in the book, he's pretty much convinced everyone in Teddy's life had something to do with his attempted murder. But the scattershot approach to investigation doesn't help him—it only threatens his potential law career, and his life.

I really enjoyed the depth Lachlan Smith gave to Leo's character, and the way he fleshed out the details of his relationship with Teddy and others. While the outcome of the book isn't necessarily surprising, there was enough uncertainty about who to trust that made the book compelling the entire way through. And while there may have been one red herring too many (I guess Smith needed to set up some threads for the next book in this series featuring Leo), it didn't detract from the book's appeal.

This isn't quite a legal thriller, and it isn't quite a mystery, but it is a well-written and fascinating book, so if you like those genres, give it a try.

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