The Tenth Case

~by Joseph Teller

The Tenth Case is the debut novel by Joseph Teller, published by Mira Books in October 2008. Mira Books is itself a newer publishing imprint (actually a part of Harlequin, believe it or not) which focuses on mainstream fiction, including thrillers. The Tenth Case is the first in a series of what I would call courtroom dramas. Not particularly well-read in this genre, I gladly accepted an offer to review an advance copy of the book.

Harrison J. Walker, known to most simply as Jaywalker, is an extraordinarily successful and extremely unorthodox criminal defense attorney in New York City. He's not afraid to bend or break a few rules (or more) in order to do all he can in the defense of his clients. His maverick nature has finally caught up to him, and he finds himself suspended for his various (an numerous) infractions and indiscretions. However, he is granted permission to select and retain ten of his current cases on the condition that they are completed with all due speed.

Defending Samar Moss is his tenth and final case--and probably the most difficult one of Jaywalker's career. Samara, the young and sexy widow of the elderly billionaire Barry Tannenbaum, is accused of stabbing her husband in the heart. Unfortunately, for her, all of the evidence seems to indicate that she is in fact the murderess. Even Jaywalker has a hard time believing her continuous protest of innocence. But, it's not his job to believe her. It's his job to defend her against all odds, and this case will take all of his skill and intelligence to pull off.

The Tenth Case is a great first novel. The narrator's perspective did feel somewhat wobbly to me, but this is something that I think will work itself out as Teller's writing and skill develops. The story itself was very intriguing although not particularly deep or engaging. (I never did learn to like Samara or connect with Jaywalker.) But, the book kept my interest and Teller even managed to throw in some good twists that were nicely satisfying even if not entirely unexpected. The plot was tight and consistent (no loose ends that I could find) which I find very encouraging, especially for a debut novel--I've read books by more experience authors which cannot make the same claim.

The Tenth Case is an intelligent book--I feel that I've learned quite a bit about criminal defense by reading it. (Teller was a criminal defense attorney before turning to fiction, so I do trust most of his portrayals in the book.) Although not among my normal genres of reading, it was a pleasant read. I don't really have anything to compare it to, and I'm certainly not well versed in courtroom dramas (outside of "Law and Order" and the play 12 Angry Men, that is), but I am fairly confident in recommending the book to fans of the genre. I even know of a fair number of people who would enjoy it even though they might not be--I know I did.

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