The Plea - Steve Cavanagh

The Plea - Steve Cavanagh *****

"Innocent or guilty. Either way Eddie Flynn is a dead man" - the fate of Steve Cavanagh's conman-hustler turned lawyer is emblazoned on the cover of the advance proof copy of The Plea. The prologue even describes how dire the situation is for Flynn as a bullet rips through his body from an unidentified killer. There's no way out surely, and it looks like it's going to be a short run for Steve Cavanagh's quick-thinking court-storming lawyer in only his second outing. Or so you would think if you hadn't seen Flynn escape from even more impossible situations in Cavanagh's debut Flynn case, The Defence. The question - as it tends to be at the end of just about every short pacy chapter of The Plea - is how is he going to get out of the latest impossible situation this time?

Cavanagh is a master of the dangling cliffhanger, and undoubtedly a good poker player. He'll know when he can bluff the reader and get away with it - a client will say "I killed her" as the punchline to a chapter and then reveal in the following chapter that he only meant that he feels responsible in some way for not listening to the victim or for failing to protect her from an untimely death. But Cavanagh knows when to pitch such gambits and when to play his hand. He also keeps an eye on the stakes and doesn't raise the pot too soon. He wants to draw you in before he plays his hand, and once you start The Plea you're going to be there until those cards are laid out on the table.

If I can stretch this metaphor a little bit further (it's relevant at least in terms of how the hustler-turned-lawyer operates), in The Plea Flynn is pressed into a game he has no choice but to play. A high profile tech executive, David Child, is due to appear in court on a charge of murdering his girlfriend, and rather than letting him rely on his big name lawyers, the CIA want Eddie Flynn to defend him. It's a fairly open and shut case, so all they want Flynn to do is to arrange to make sure he enters a guilty plea. Then, in exchange for some information that will bring down a bigger money laundering operation they are investigating, they are willing to ensure Child gets a reduced sentence.

Eddie has a dilemma. Despite the overwhelming evidence against him and having no actual proof to the contrary, Eddie is convinced that Child is not guilty. He thinks he might even be able to get the information the CIA want as well as get his client off on the charge of murder. As an incentive to take part in the game and play by their rules, the stake being offered to Eddie by the CIA however is one he can't afford to gamble with. His estranged wife works for the firm they are trying to bring down and she will go down with them if he doesn't cooperate. Not only that, but the firm they are trying to bring down is the same law firm who are currently representing Child.

It's an impossible situation. Eddie can't see a man who he believes to be innocent convicted of murder, but even if he could prove it - and it seems impossible - it would come at a terrible cost to his wife and his daughter. And that's just the opening gambit. You can be sure that there are considerable twists and turns, bluffs and sleights of hand played along the way. Plausibility isn't necessarily the most important consideration, but you don't want to feel you're being cheated either as a reader, and Steve Cavanagh - the ultimate con artist - makes sure that he doesn't lose his mark before they've been drawn into the game. And once you're in, seeing it through to the conclusion is as much a matter of life and death for the reader as it is for Eddie Flynn.

The Plea is very easy to read and get involved in. Cavanagh's writing style has no pretensions or unnecessary diversions, descriptions or stylisations, it just gets straight to the point and never lets up the pace. In that respect if there's a style that Cavanagh's Eddie Flynn novels are close to, it's classic US pulp noir. Aside from a few technical innovations that involve the laundering of money through a computer algorithm, The Plea could just as easily be set in the 1930s and 40s with no discernible differences. This really is classic crime courtroom drama.

The Plea is consequently a thrill-a-minute high-drama word ride. There are less of the action hero adventures that made the debut The Defence a little preposterous in places, where Eddie would perform all kinds of Houdini acts and start gangland wars between rival mafia gangs, the focus this time remains on Eddie's ingenuity and skill at pulling last-minute rabbits out of the hat in the courtroom and drawing astonished gasps from the gallery and an uproar from the press. It's masterly, punch-the-air courtroom drama of the highest order. And yes, Eddie Flynn does 'die' in The Plea. Never let it be said that Cavanagh cheats the reader. Obviously however it's not as clear cut as that, and I'm sure we'll be meeting Eddie Flynn again soon. Can't wait.


The Plea is published by Orion.

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