Oline Cogdill
I remember Jake Lassiter with a lot of fondness.

Jake wasn’t the brightest lawyer to work out of Miami. And he often let his awkward ways with women get the best of him.
Lassiter had a smart-mouth and a self-deprecating personality that did him few favors.

But you could never call Lassiter insincere.

He worked hard for his clients, even when they didn’t return the favor. He knew the law.

He knew his way around the Miami court system, and when to avoid the courthouse steps during the daily cleanup to remove chicken parts and goats’ heads used in Santeria rituals. Ahh, those only in South Florida moments.

And he knew Miami, though sometimes he would get lost in Little Havana because numbered streets were renamed to honor heroes favored by the city commission.

In the hands of author Paul Levine, Lassiter, a Miami Dolphins linebacker turned hard-nosed lawyer, helped launch the current wave of Florida mysteries.

It seems like just yesterday – not 20 years ago – that Levine started the Lassiter series with 1990’s To Speak for the Dead.

It also seems like just yesterday – not 20 years ago – that I started reviewing mystery fiction, and one of the first ones I tackled was To Speak for the Dead. (For the record, I liked it.)

Levine, a former newspaper reporter, law professor and a trial lawyer, published seven Jake Lassiter novels during the 1990s, putting the series on hiatus in 1997.

The series earned Levine the John D. MacDonald Florida Fiction Award. To Speak for the Dead was named one of the 10 best mysteries of the year by the Los Angeles Times.

Jake Lassiter has returned this month – in more ways than one.

To mark the 20th anniversary of his first novel, Levine has put To Speak for the Dead out as an e-book on Amazon Kindle and Smashwords for anyone with a non-Kindle e-reader.

That’s hardly a revoluntionary idea, with many authors now going that route.

But Levine is giving ALL proceeds of the To Speak for the Dead e-book to the Four Diamonds Fund, which supports treatment and research at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital.

“I’ve lost three people to cancer in the last few years, one of them the 14-year-old daughter of my best friend, so this is a cause close to my heart,” said Levine.

The Four Diamonds Fund was started by the parents of 14-year-old Chris Millard, a writer of childhood mythic tales, “Sir Millard and the Four Diamonds,” who died of cancer. A portion of one of his stories is on the website.

To Speak for the Dead, which was translated into 15 languages and adapted into an NBC movie in 1995, also has a special significance to Levine.

“The book is meaningful to me, too,” he said. “It got me out of the courtroom. Or at least, out of trying cases. I still visit courtrooms for pleasure and research — but not yet as a defendant.”

All seven Lassiter novels will be published as e-books in the next year.

And Levine is going to bring back the series with the new hardcover novel Lassiter, set for publication during September 2011 by Bantam.

After his series, Levine moved from South Florida to Los Angeles, where he still lives. He wrote 20 episodes of the CBS military drama JAG, and co-created the Supreme Court show First Monday, starring James Garner and Joe Mantegna. He also has written two stand-alone thrillers including last year’s Illegal, plus the four-book Solomon vs. Lord series.

It will be fun to have Jake back again.