Pardon the Ravens by Alan Hruska is a legal thriller set in 1960s New York about a young lawyer who falls for a mobster's wife and risks losing it all (available February 10, 2015).
This is another good mystery with great courtroom drama and the continual inner battle of a good man who has to deal with bad men to get what he wants. I’ve been a fan of John Grisham, Lisa Scottoline, and Scott Turow for many years. I enjoy the nuances of the law, and the games lawyers play to get their point across.
Alan Hruska is abundantly creative. After spending 44 years as an attorney, he decided he wanted to pursue more imaginative pursuits. Since then, he has written, produced, and directed movies, written plays, and written novels. Who says you can’t recreate yourself? Certainly not Hruska. Pardon the Ravens is his third novel. He also wrote Borrowed Time and Wrong Man Running.
I have to admit I was intrigued by the title of Pardon the Ravens, and then confused. I wasn’t familiar with the quote from Juvenal, though after I looked it up, I found I appreciated it and enjoyed the book more because I fully understood it.
The hero is Alec Brno, a young, brilliant lawyer scratching through the stacks of paperwork in the well-known firm of Kendall, Blake, Steele & Braddock. It’s 1961, and like every aspiring attorney, Alec longs for the day he’s the one delivering the openings and closings and winning the battle for clients.
He works for Frank Macalister, one of the firm’s big guns, though he often finds it easier to deal with cranky clients than Mac himself. Alec is happy to be at Mac’s side in the courtroom, however, because he knows he can put to use what he’s learning when he becomes the lead in a case.
Two years earlier, Alec had signed on with Kendall, Blake right out of law school. Then, the firm had been housed at 25 Broad Street—a squat pile of some twenty floors, deco in style, and took forever to go in either direction. But new buildings continually arise in the city, and its successful inhabitants grow into them. Now, every morning, Alec speeds soundlessly to the heights of a sixty-story glass tower on Water Street. He has his own small office on the fifty-eighth floor with a spectacular view of almost the entirety of Manhattan.
Alec is drawn to that view as soon as he enters the office and stands admiring it for some minutes before settling down at his desk. The partner he works for, Frank Macalister, is in Miami, finishing a trial. It’s the only Macalister case Alec isn’t assigned to, which means he’s expected to deal with the rest of Mac’s caseload.
The insight in to Alec’s make up comes across quite well in these descriptive passages, and you grow to like the bright young man immediately.
One of these days, he thinks, he’ll head up a litigation team and be comfortable enough in court to command attention, not let it command him. At his present level of inexperience, however, his view of trial practice is still influenced by the movies.
Still, it’s not just good-guys-versus-bad-buys in Alec’s courtroom cases. The clients of Kendall, Blake are the owners of corporation that has lost excessive amounts of money and are embroiled in a class-action suit that could be fatal to business. At the heart of it is a storage facility with tankers that should be loaded with oil but instead hold sea water.
It’s no problem for Alec to give his life over to his work. His recent break up with Darcy has left him with lots of time on his hands. Though he misses the intimacy he had with Darcy, he has no problem with his job being his mistress…until he meets Carrie Madigan, a soulful young woman he passes in the courthouse hallway one afternoon.
I think Hruska may have rushed the romantic entanglement of these two characters a bit much, but in the end, it works. In spite of her drug addiction, her marriage to a mob boss, and her inclination to run away without notice, Alec keeps rescuing Carrie. He gets warnings from his boss, his somewhat estranged father, and her nasty husband, but he can’t stay away.
Their story is definitely Romeo and Juliet, New York Style. I couldn’t stop myself from pulling for them, even though I felt it was an impossible situation. Such are the things good plots come from, for sure.
Hruska does a good job of setting the scene and building his case. I don’t think his writing has the finesse or elegance of Grisham or Scottoline. It gets a bit stilted at times, but he has crafted an entertaining story with a satisfying ending.
When Alec is thrust to the forefront of his firm’s big case, there’s a lot going on to make him tense and edgy. Carrie is in and out of his life and struggling to overcome addiction. He has to win his case or his career will be ended before it takes off. He’s also coming up against some of the best legal minds in New York City on this case, and they don’t make a habit of losing.
Now comes the truly difficult part for Alec. Carrie can help the enterprising lawyer win his big case because the true culprit is her husband, Phil Anwar, the current head of New York’s biggest crime family. He’s about as charming as a viper and his hobby is being a sadist. You can imagine how many ways he knows how to inflict pain. We all know that means Phil’s not going to let Carrie get away with being with another man.
The other little problem Carrie has is the beautiful little daughter she has with Phil. Naturally, Phil isn’t going to let the little girl out of his sight. Even though he knows Carrie hates him, Phil doesn’t want her dead.
“See Phil,” says Cuitano. “I don’t worry about Sal Martini. He’s a pro. This is what? Third time he’s going up? He’s tested out. It’s early retirement for him, and he’s funded. You know who worries me? With all due respect. Your wife. Sorry. But that’s how it is. That’s the reality of the situation.”
Phil, keeping his temper, says softly, “What worries you there, John?”
Little John is a doodler. His subject is the submachine gun. He’s proficient in most models, current and classic. His canvas, at restaurants, is a napkin, even a cloth napkin, on which he works with a ballpoint pen. “Word getting back to me,” he says, looking up from his sketch, “is she’s on the street.”
“You’ve been misinformed, John.”
“Aaron was worried about her.”
“I wasn’t aware of that.”
“Haven’t heard from Aaron in a while. Know where he is?”
“Aaron?” Phil makes a gesture of not knowing or caring.
“The man just disappeared. Not like him.”
“No idea, John.”
“She’s not living with you, I hear. Your wife.”
“For the moment,” Phil says.
“Not even using her married name.”
Phil looks at the man without speaking.
“You have her on a leash?” John asks.
“Very tight leash.”
The beauty of passages like this is you can feel the tension even without the descriptive text. It was so easy for me to picture this exchange, in a fine restaurant, with low lighting and muted conversation around them. It’s also obvious there’s a lot more tension between these two men than what they’re discussing.
You can expect this kind of suspense throughout the story. And I wasn’t kidding when I said it was a satisfying ending. Hruska is a clever writer. I won’t say more than that.
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Leigh Neely is a former journalist and editor who writes fiction with her writing partner, Jan Powell as Neely Powell. They are authors of the popular True Nature from The Wild Rose Press and “The Witches of New Mourne” trilogy. Leigh also writes for the popular blog, WomenofMystery.net.
Read all of Leigh Neely's posts for Criminal Element.