Wednesday, 14 July 2010 00:00
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.
Jake Lassiter Is Back
Oline Cogdill
jake-lassiter-is-back
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.
Sunday, 11 July 2010 00:00
Fans of Tess Gerritsen’s novels will find much to like in the new TNT series Rizzoli & Isles, based on the author’s long-running series.

But even those who have never heard of Gerritsen’s novels about Boston police detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles will find much to like in this gripping, well-plotted and intelligent crime drama.

Rizzoli & Isles launches Monday, July 12, at 10 p.m. (Eastern and Pacific time; 9 p.m. Central time).

Unlike most of the crime dramas on TNT that rely on the characters’ eccentricities to add texture to the plots, Rizzoli & Isles is a straight-ahead, serious cop show.

The focus here is on the crime detection that springs from the working relationship between the cops and the medical examiner’s office. Rizzoli & Isles sparingly uses humor, springing from the characters’ witty and smart conversations.

Rizzoli & Isles is an adult crime drama that is more like Law & Order – without the endless reruns.

The first two episodes I screened feature well-devised plots that are realistic and intriguing. Some scenes are a bit graphic, but actually are quite tame when compared with some of the current network crime shows such as the CSI’s, Criminal Minds and the Law & Order franchise.

And the analogy to Law & Order has some merit. Rizzoli is played by Angie Harmon, who played Law & Order’s assistant district attorney Abbie Carmichael from 1998-2001 and was, for my money, the best ADA the show ever had. Harmon is an intelligent actress who always brings a degree of sophistication to her roles. Those high standards continue in her role as the independent Rizzoli.

Sasha Alexander also brings a sense of refinement to her role as Isles. Alexander is best known for her role as Special Agent Caitlin “Kate” Todd in the first two seasons of the drama NCIS. She also was a regular on Dawson’s Creek, Presidio Med and The Nine.

The friendship and respect that Rizzoli and Isles have for each other will be a major part of the series, as it is in the novels.

The two women are the ying and yang – Rizzoli with her close-knit Italian roots and Isles with her blue-blood background. Isles is always impeccably dressed while Rizzoli is more comfortable in torn jeans and isn’t bothered by a dirty shirt. Both women are intelligent and know the value of deep friendships. Their respect for each other won’t preclude them from having disagreements.

Rizzoli & Isles also features Lee Thompson Young as Rizzoli’s new partner Det. Barry Frost; Lorraine Bracco in a throw-away role as Jane’s mother, Angie Rizzoli; and Bruce McGill as Rizzoli’s former partner and now mentor Det. Vince Korsak. (For trivia buffs, McGill’s played D-Day in National Lampoon’s Animal House, one of my favorite movies.)

Here’s hoping that Rizzoli & Isles runs for years; and that it draws new readers to Gerritsen’s novels.

Rizzoli & Isles begins on TNT at Monday, July 12, at 10 p.m. (Eastern and Pacific time; 9 p.m. Central time) following the sixth-season premiere of The Closer.
Rizzoli & Isles: an Intelligent Crime Drama
Oline Cogdill
rizzoli-a-isles-an-intelligent-crime-drama
Fans of Tess Gerritsen’s novels will find much to like in the new TNT series Rizzoli & Isles, based on the author’s long-running series.

But even those who have never heard of Gerritsen’s novels about Boston police detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles will find much to like in this gripping, well-plotted and intelligent crime drama.

Rizzoli & Isles launches Monday, July 12, at 10 p.m. (Eastern and Pacific time; 9 p.m. Central time).

Unlike most of the crime dramas on TNT that rely on the characters’ eccentricities to add texture to the plots, Rizzoli & Isles is a straight-ahead, serious cop show.

The focus here is on the crime detection that springs from the working relationship between the cops and the medical examiner’s office. Rizzoli & Isles sparingly uses humor, springing from the characters’ witty and smart conversations.

Rizzoli & Isles is an adult crime drama that is more like Law & Order – without the endless reruns.

The first two episodes I screened feature well-devised plots that are realistic and intriguing. Some scenes are a bit graphic, but actually are quite tame when compared with some of the current network crime shows such as the CSI’s, Criminal Minds and the Law & Order franchise.

And the analogy to Law & Order has some merit. Rizzoli is played by Angie Harmon, who played Law & Order’s assistant district attorney Abbie Carmichael from 1998-2001 and was, for my money, the best ADA the show ever had. Harmon is an intelligent actress who always brings a degree of sophistication to her roles. Those high standards continue in her role as the independent Rizzoli.

Sasha Alexander also brings a sense of refinement to her role as Isles. Alexander is best known for her role as Special Agent Caitlin “Kate” Todd in the first two seasons of the drama NCIS. She also was a regular on Dawson’s Creek, Presidio Med and The Nine.

The friendship and respect that Rizzoli and Isles have for each other will be a major part of the series, as it is in the novels.

The two women are the ying and yang – Rizzoli with her close-knit Italian roots and Isles with her blue-blood background. Isles is always impeccably dressed while Rizzoli is more comfortable in torn jeans and isn’t bothered by a dirty shirt. Both women are intelligent and know the value of deep friendships. Their respect for each other won’t preclude them from having disagreements.

Rizzoli & Isles also features Lee Thompson Young as Rizzoli’s new partner Det. Barry Frost; Lorraine Bracco in a throw-away role as Jane’s mother, Angie Rizzoli; and Bruce McGill as Rizzoli’s former partner and now mentor Det. Vince Korsak. (For trivia buffs, McGill’s played D-Day in National Lampoon’s Animal House, one of my favorite movies.)

Here’s hoping that Rizzoli & Isles runs for years; and that it draws new readers to Gerritsen’s novels.

Rizzoli & Isles begins on TNT at Monday, July 12, at 10 p.m. (Eastern and Pacific time; 9 p.m. Central time) following the sixth-season premiere of The Closer.
Friday, 02 July 2010 12:16
A few months ago, I was at a book signing for Robert Crais.

The audience was fairly mixed with men and woman, of all ages; fans who had come to hear Crais talk about Elvis Cole, Joe Pike and his latest novel, The First Rule.

But during the question and answer session, a man in his mid-thirties made a comment that almost got him thrown out of the bookstore.

“I didn’t expect to see all these old people here,” said the man who was clearly a fan. “I thought it would be more people my age and more guys. I always thought you wrote young.”

Crais does write young. And Elvis and Joe do appeal to a young audience. They also appeal to a middle-aged audience, retirees and, well, just about anyone who can read.

I bring up this age issue because it is a factor in the cover profile of Michael Koryta in the latest Mystery Scene, No. 115. Kevin Burton Smith captures Koryta so well.

At age 27, Koryta is among the youngest of crime fiction authors. That he started his career at age 21 with the excellent Tonight I Said Goodbye is pretty amazing.

Yeah, he’s a whiz kid, all right.

But more importantly, he is an excellent writer. And the only reason his age should made a difference or even be a factor is it means that readers will have more years of enjoyment from his novels.

We’ve already had a good taste of Koryta’s talent. His stand-alone novel Envy the Night won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. (Full disclosure, I was one of the judges that year.)

One of the constants about crime fiction is that age, sex, race, sexual orientation and locale matter little to readers.

What crime fiction readers care about – and all they should care about – is if the story grabs them, if the characters are believable, the action realistic or, if it’s not realistic, at least makes them want to go along for the ride.

Mystery readers are sophisticated and are willing to follow an author just about anywhere if the story is worth it.

Sure, Koryta is young.

But he isn’t the only author to start early and continue to write intriguing crime fiction.

Greg Rucka was 27 when Finder was published. Dennis Lehane was 29 when A Drink Before the War came out. Tom Rob Smith was 29 when Child 44 was published.

Michael Connelly was 35 when Black Echo hit the stores, the same age as Dashiell Hammett when Red Harvest was published.

And Lawrence Block was just 23 when his first novel was published; by the time his first Matthew Scudder novel, The Sins of the Fathers, came in 1976, Block was 38 years old.

Good storytelling is ageless.
Michael Koryta Is Young
Oline Cogdill
michael-koryta-is-young
A few months ago, I was at a book signing for Robert Crais.

The audience was fairly mixed with men and woman, of all ages; fans who had come to hear Crais talk about Elvis Cole, Joe Pike and his latest novel, The First Rule.

But during the question and answer session, a man in his mid-thirties made a comment that almost got him thrown out of the bookstore.

“I didn’t expect to see all these old people here,” said the man who was clearly a fan. “I thought it would be more people my age and more guys. I always thought you wrote young.”

Crais does write young. And Elvis and Joe do appeal to a young audience. They also appeal to a middle-aged audience, retirees and, well, just about anyone who can read.

I bring up this age issue because it is a factor in the cover profile of Michael Koryta in the latest Mystery Scene, No. 115. Kevin Burton Smith captures Koryta so well.

At age 27, Koryta is among the youngest of crime fiction authors. That he started his career at age 21 with the excellent Tonight I Said Goodbye is pretty amazing.

Yeah, he’s a whiz kid, all right.

But more importantly, he is an excellent writer. And the only reason his age should made a difference or even be a factor is it means that readers will have more years of enjoyment from his novels.

We’ve already had a good taste of Koryta’s talent. His stand-alone novel Envy the Night won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. (Full disclosure, I was one of the judges that year.)

One of the constants about crime fiction is that age, sex, race, sexual orientation and locale matter little to readers.

What crime fiction readers care about – and all they should care about – is if the story grabs them, if the characters are believable, the action realistic or, if it’s not realistic, at least makes them want to go along for the ride.

Mystery readers are sophisticated and are willing to follow an author just about anywhere if the story is worth it.

Sure, Koryta is young.

But he isn’t the only author to start early and continue to write intriguing crime fiction.

Greg Rucka was 27 when Finder was published. Dennis Lehane was 29 when A Drink Before the War came out. Tom Rob Smith was 29 when Child 44 was published.

Michael Connelly was 35 when Black Echo hit the stores, the same age as Dashiell Hammett when Red Harvest was published.

And Lawrence Block was just 23 when his first novel was published; by the time his first Matthew Scudder novel, The Sins of the Fathers, came in 1976, Block was 38 years old.

Good storytelling is ageless.