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16 April 2010
Review: THE MAYOR OF LEXINGTON AVENUE, James Sheehan
Random House Australia, Bantam Press, 2006
When Rudy Kelly was a young boy he came to Bass Creek, a Florida backwater, with his mother Elena. Locals recognise that Rudy is slow, but not retarded. He has become a lovely young man always eager to please.
Now Lucy Ochoa has been found dead in her trailer, her throat cut, and several witnesses saw seventeen year old Rudy running away down the street. Local police are convinced they do not need to look any further and actually manipulate the evidence to prove Rudy's guilt. Elena does not have the money needed to follow Rudy's defence through to the highest level. Rudy is convicted of the murder and ten years later is waiting on death row. When crack trial lawyer Jack Tobin learns of Rudy's plight there are just eight weeks to go before his execution is scheduled to take place.
A number of flash-back chapters tell the readers both the significance of the title, and the reasons why Jack Tobin becomes involved in Rudy's appeal process at such a late stage. Proving that Rudy is the victim of manipulated evidence and a miscarriage of justice becomes Jack's whole focus. Jack is a man of political influence who manages to manoeuvre himself into a position where he can bring those who destroyed Rudy's life to justice through the legal system.
This is a debut novel that probably could have done with a bit more editing. I felt sometimes that there were too many characters and really too much going on. The plot has many strands and a number of time frames, and while the author makes a good job of drawing everything together by the end, there were sections that felt extraneous and should have been sacrificed. For example, the central character Jack Tobin and Pat, the love of his life, take a holiday in Ireland, getting away for ten days just prior to the big trial sequence. It was eight pages that just did not need to be there
The author, James Sheehan, is a trial attorney who has practiced law for twenty- eight years in Tampa/St. Petersburg, Florida. In the opening pages Sheehan has inserted the customary disclaimer that reminds readers that this novel is "a work of fiction". I found that I had to remind myself of that on occasion because it reminded me of non-fiction books I have read. The style of THE MAYOR OF LEXINGTON AVENUE has much in common with true-crime books with precision dating, courtroom descriptions, legalese, and an obvious knowledge of the local legal system. It reads as if it is closely based on circumstances that Sheehan has known well.
Sheehan paid his parents the ultimate compliment by naming his main character Jack Tobin after them, and dedicating his book to their memory. There seem to be similarities between the boyhoods of Jack Tobin and the author himself, as if here too he is drawing on his own life.
The copy of the novel that I have has a little sticker on it that says "as good as Grisham or get a Grisham free". Certainly it is Grisham-like in its style, and there are similarities in the saga-like construction and the building of tension towards the climax. Those who enjoy courtroom thrillers and legal dramas will certainly enjoy this.
My rating: 4.1
August 2006 review originally published on Murder and Mayhem