The Devil’s Advocate (2021) by Steve Cavanagh

When a young girl is killed in Buckstown, Alabama, a sequence of events begins that will have terrible consequences. The sheriff arrests Andy Dubois, a young man who knew the victim, and soon he has a plethora of evidence against him – witness statements, physical evidence, even a signed confession or two.

Enter hotshot New York lawyer, Eddie Flynn. Enlisted to prove Andy’s innocence, after his original lawyer disappeared, it soon becomes clear that Andy has been framed. But finding the real killer may well not be enough. Buckstown is the domain of District Attorney Randal Korn, a man who wins every prosecution, a man with the citizens of Buckstown in the palm of his hand. And guilty or not, he wants to see Andy Dubois burn…

This is the third of the Eddie Flynn books that I’ve read. The last two were entertaining thrillers that did exactly what they set out to do, so I was looking forward to getting round to this one. And yet again, I’ve come away entertained, although as with Thirteen, I had to suspend my disbelief somewhat before going in…

It’s always been enjoyable to read entertaining courtroom dramas. One of my favourite pieces of all of John Dickson Carr’s writing was Merrivale dicking around in the courtroom during The Judas Window, and of course you’ll all be remembering the section in Brian Flynn’s Tread Softly where we drop in on the thoughts of all of the jurors, but other depictions of trials have come across as rather dull. That’s not the case here, as Eddie and his team twist and turn to try and outwit Korn at his own game on his home turf.

And it’s fun. Yes, you can see some of the tricks coming, but there are plenty that you won’t. One area where you will have to suspend disbelief, however, is that Korn has got away with this stuff for years when it doesn’t actually seem that hard to stand up to him. Eddie is helped by at least two very lucky (for him at least) occurrences and some mistakes that Korn himself makes, but it was a little hard to believe that he hadn’t been caught out before.

Where the book fell down a bit for me is the story behind the actual murderer of the girl, as this escalates quickly, overshadowing Korn who was being presented as the main villain whereas in fact the mysterious Pastor takes that role. Once the Pastor’s nature becomes clear, the notion that Korn just likes to convict and execute any old suspect sort of fades into the background. And, like Korn, it didn’t seem to take an awful lot to derail his schemes either. I think the book would have benefited with less time on him and more time on the courtroom sections, as these were the undoubted highlight and Korn the more interesting antagonist.

All in all, a fun undemanding read. It’s an out and out thriller rather than a mystery – there’s a sort-of whodunit element but we’re eventually just told who the villain is (and again, suspend disbelief…) Nonetheless, I’ve been carrying the book around, grabbing a few chapters at a time, and while it never quite reaches the heights of the very best in the genre, it is still a very enjoyable read.

The Devil’s Advocate is out now in paperback and ebook from Orion Books

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