The twelfth book in the John Francis Cuddy private investigator series, THE ONLY GOOD LAWYER, fits the body of Jeremiah Healy's work like a well-broken leather jacket - with a new satin lining. Healy could teach Boston's Gillette Company a thing or two about a close shave. His style is sharper, less didactic (though expert on Boston), and the tale sports a more vulnerable hero.Although his investigations have taken him to the Capital Beltway and the Florida keys, Boston is John Cuddy's oyster and he's made quite a shell mound there of the corpses of anyone on the wrong side of the law who tangles with him. The novel preludes in a brief candle of consciousness - the last BMW ride of Woodrow Wilson Gant, Esquire. A self-made black bourgeois, he's forgotten a lesson he learned while an assistant D.A.: "Watch your back." Now he's one dead divorce attorney and everybody just knows the racist husband of his client, Spaeth, has done it. Complacency being one of Cuddy's deadly sins, no one is safe in assuming anything here. Believing the bigot to be innocent of the crime, Cuddy takes up the case, as P.I. for Alan Spaeth's defense lawyer, who has a Jewish name. Why he would swap the pleasures of dining in the Back Bay at L'Espalier or the endearing young charms of Ms. Meagher for one Houdini-like confrontation with mortality after another, probably has to do with youth in South Boston where eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. In past episodes, Cuddy has had Assistant D.A. Nancy Meagher for emotional support, when he hasn't been "channelling" at the grave of his dead wife Beth. Here, Nancy raises her own specter of conflict-of-sexual-interest. She's had a fling with the murder victim lawyer and doesn't want to tell Cuddy or to compromise his investigation. She evades; he feels cut off. His Irishness is a given, for where he lives and how he makes a buck, but I wonder did his never-mentioned mother actually master the rhythm method. Where pray tell are those brothers with their shoes and their beers on the coffee table, between feast and famine? And the sisters getting their utilities cut off in the dead of winter? If they've gone off and started a bed and breakfast on Dingle Bay, he hasn't breathed a word. Perhaps we find them metamorphosed into the motley array of humanity he has to sort out to follow his leads. And Cuddy responds to the decency in the best of them. He pans for that nugget in the still waters of the loner's mind. He draws on shared military experience to make some important connections with a security guard or flophouse owner. By contrast, he is all curt politeness with the smug or scheming rich. That undertone of careful moral evaluation forever marks him as a survivor of First Communion boot camp. In being so sensitized to conscience, he has the edge in eliminating suspects. Some of the stories have found him in the bag, but he's not one to leap into the sack with strange women. A sexually tempted straight arrow, he remains true to Nancy and in every other way his body's a temple. But having seemed too long the black Irish tenor, all dark curls and winsome dimples, it's refreshing to hear more of the baritone notes in this piece. Nancy has had a cancer scare and Cuddy is not so much laughing cavalier. He swaps cop jive with the best of them, especially Afro-American Lt. Murphy, who's a brother for all that. He can wisecrack with a Medical Examiner, but deedless words are one curse of the Irish he's laid to rest, and the only wise that cracks a case is the ongoing rumination he conducts with living witnesses. Physical evidence can be so deceptive. The circle of suspects having been narrowed, evil appears to do battle. Cuddy's self-defense cheats the jailer (and well-paid dream-teams) in a state without a death penalty. He just shrugs and jogs off into the sunset, if he doesn't have to see the orthopedist first. And you can bet there'll be a reservation for a table for two at a Back Bay establishment.
If any individual should be placed in jail with the key thrown away, that person is Alan Spaeth. Alan is a bigot, pathological liar, and spouse abuser. So no one is upset when Alan is arrested for the murder of African-American Woodrow Wilson Gant, his wife's divorce attorney. The victim was allegedly having an affair with his client, the suspect's spouse. A friend of Boston private investigator John Cuddy calls in a marker by asking the sleuth to investigate the case because he feels the lowlife is innocent. After meeting Spaeth, John figures that with the friends he has, he needs no enemies. However, John soon starts believing that Spaeth is innocent and is being framed by some powerful folks. To continue on the case may cost John his budding relationship with his girl friend. However, John feels strongly that he must continue digging until the truth is uncovered so that justice can be swerved. THE ONLY GOOD LAWYER is the twelfth novel in the wonderful Cuddy mysteries. As usual, John is a wonderful character and the secondary characters add much depth to the tale. Though the story line is more like a middleweight when compared to some of the previous superheavyweight tales in this exciting series, nonetheless the plot remains fast paced and interesting. Jeremiah Healy's entire twelve books are worth reading even if some are more so than others. Harriet Klausner
Healy is one of the genre's better writers and Cuddy one of its more memorable PIs. And this latest Cuddy adventure opens with one of the series' best scenes, a gripping murder of a philandering divorce lawyer on a dark and deserted stretch of highway. So it's all the more disappointing that soon after the first scene ends, the book degrades to a sadly pedestrian quality of writing, both on the level of the plotting (Cuddy talks to this suspect, Cuddy talks to that suspect) and the prose itself (Healy particularly overdoes the device of ending a statement in dialog with a question mark, you know, to mimic the way people actually talk?). Worst of all, Healy deliberately sets up a complicated red herring solution involving a lesbian co-worker of the deceased. It feels cheap when you think it's the real solution and cheaper still when you realize the author is just playing games with you. It doesn't help that the actual solution, while more PC, is neither clever nor satisfying, nor that the book ends abruptly, with bits of character business unresolved. There are better Cuddy novels by far.
Jeremiah Healy's "John Cuddy" series has never struck me as much beyond passable time-wasters. Involving, cutting-edge, suspenseful - never. But "The Only Good Lawyer" is not worth your time unless you're a faithful fan. I swear, I have never seen a main character in a book spend so much time "waiting to be shown into (fill-in-the blank's) office". I lost interest about halfway through. Dull stuff!