Book review: Fifty Fifty by Steve Cavanagh
If you've read any of his Eddie Flynn thrillers (The Defence, The Plea, The Liar, Thirteen), you probably don't need anyone to convince you of Steve Cavanagh's brilliance as a courtroom drama crime writer, but it's going to be immediately apparent to anyone else who reads even the first 10 pages of his latest book Fifty Fifty. You can rely on Cavanagh to have you hooked from the get-go, and not just hooked but racing through the remainder of the 350 pages of this particular book with the added incentive that it looks like being a Eddie Flynn thriller like no other.
The situation is clearly, concisely and grippingly laid out in those first 10 pages. Eddie Flynn, street con-artist turned high-flying but irreverent lawyer who nonetheless has considerably more integrity than the rest of his profession, is dealing with one of the most intriguing and difficult cases of his career. Or at least since the last one anyway, which was also the trial of the century, I believe. And yet the jury have just returned after only 48 minutes of deliberation to deliver their verdict. Despite his experience as a former confidence artist who can usually read a jury, Eddie doesn't know how to call this one. The decision could go either way, fifty-fifty.
We aren't accustomed to there being any doubts about the innocence of the defendants that Eddie Flynn represents, but the reason for all the ambiguity this time is the nature of the case itself. The police have been called to an on-going crime by two sisters, Alexandra and Sofia Avellino, who have both separately called the emergency services each claiming that the other sister killed their father and is now threatening to kill them. One of them did it, but which one is telling the truth?
Their father, who was stabbed 53 times in what looks like a frenzied attack, was Frank Avellino, former mayor of New York. In a high profile homicide case like this it's no time before the competing attorneys are circling like sharks down at the NYPD First Precinct where both girls are being held. As you can imagine Eddie is going to get the defence, but in what looks like being a joint trial where both women are accused, not only can Eddie not be sure that he can successfully defend his client before a jury by helping prosecute her sister, but he can't even be sure that Sofia, who he is going to represent, is the innocent party here.
Perhaps not so strangely, other than the fact that Cavanagh seems to be playing both sides off each other, the defence representing the other Avellino sister Alexandra are just as convinced of her innocence, or at least convinced that they can prove Sofia is the killer. We get that view from Kate Brooks, a young junior lawyer in a prestigious law firm, who despite being subjected to a shocking amount of sexism and harassment from her employer is determined that she can successfully defend Alexandra against Sofia. And, somewhat more optimistically, against Eddie.
This being Steve Cavanagh and it being an Eddie Flynn thriller however you know that nothing about this case is going to be straightforward, that there will be additional complications, shock revelations and twists. These come usually around the end of every short chapter, as one of Cavanagh's great skills is to get you to that stage of continually devouring 'just one more chapter'. There's no-one better and, after the slightly disappointing standalone thriller Twisted, he's back to his best here.
That makes Fifty Fifty sound formulaic and to some extent Cavanagh's writing is indeed just there to provide a thrilling blast of hugely readable entertainment, but he consistently pushes forward with each book. In Fifty Fifty he tackles a lot of issues from police corruption, MeToo sexism and abuses of power, racism, class and social prejudices; all manner of subjects. Not in any great depth maybe - the prime focus remains on tense plotting and crime drama - but it does provide context and nuance for how the system works, and when you know how it works you know how to exploit it. And that applies not just to Eddie, but Kate as well. And, since he is actually a practicing lawyer, it probably applies to Cavanagh himself.
Without giving anything away - any spoilers for a Steve Cavanagh book should also be on the statute books as a criminal offence - the really clever twist of Fifty Fifty is that Cavanagh also plays with the reader's loyalty to Eddie Flynn and the usual certainly that our hero can't possibly be wrong about his client. I'm not saying he is wrong this time, but it's definitely 50/50. The same doubts can't be applied to Steve Cavanagh, who wasn't exactly a slacker the first time around with The Defence, but he has continually upped the stakes with each Eddie Flynn thriller and each one has been better than that last. Inevitably then, Fifty Fifty rates as his best yet.