Does every life matter? Mark Gimenez deals with this question in his legal thrillers. I reviewed the The Color of Law, on Review This recently. I finished The Common Lawyer two days ago.
Each of these books got off to a slow start and then started moving so fast I didn’t want to put it down. In fact, once I reached the point where the action picked up, I couldn’t go to bed until I finished the The Common Lawyer. In each book the lawyer protagonist is faced with a life-changing moral dilemma where he has to weigh conscience against money.
The reason the books get off to a slow start is that Gimenez wants to be sure the reader gets to know the main character very well before he goes into action. So after a short Prologue in which a mother helps her five-year-old daughter escape from a research hospital where she is being used a guinea pig in experiments – we meet Andy Prescott.
Andy is a lawyer who only got admitted to law school because his mother was on the faculty of the University of Texas. He barely made it through law school and only passed the bar on his third attempt. He cannot get a decent job in the legal profession, but stumbles on a way to earn enough to support his biking lifestyle by getting traffic tickets dismissed. He had discovered that if he asked for a jury trial for his clients, the calendar would be backed up so far it might take two years to get to court. By the time of the trial, the officer would not come in to testify and the case would be dismissed. Andy would get tickets dismissed for a $100 fee with a guarantee that if the ticket were not dismissed, he would pay it himself. He had never had to pay a ticket. That’s a good thing, because he never had enough money to pay a ticket.
Andy’s office is in a part of Austin known as SoCo because of its location on South Congress Avenue. It would be helpful to see a map and other information about SoCo as you read this book. A good portion of this book is spent on Andy’s bike rides in the Austin area. You will enjoy the books more if you have a map in front of you, or at least have a map to consult, The web site shows you not only a map, but also a photo of Guero’s Taco Bar, one place Andy was often found. Another place Andy would hang out with his friends was Jo’s Hot Coffee. The Jo’s Hot Coffee Facebook Page will help you visualize that part of Andy’s lifestyle, since it has photos and even a video. It is dog friendly, so Andy often takes his dog Max there at breakfast time and buys muffins for him, too. Geography is more important in this book than in some others because a lot of the action takes place in the restaurants and on bike trails or the streets of SoCo.
Back to Andy’s office. Andy rents a very small office space located above Ramon’s Body Art. Ramon is Andy’s landlord and Andy pays $200 a month for his space and to share Ramon’s computer and restroom. Tattoos are an important part of SoCo culture. Not having a tattoo marks one as an outsider. Andy’s desk is a card table. His advertising is by business card and word of mouth. Many of his friends collect tickets people drop off for him. He appears at Municipal Court to get the tickets dismissed. Andy lives in a one-bedroom apartment in SoCo and can only afford it because it is awaiting renovation, and his landlord was transferred to California and isn’t thinking about it.
Andy lives to ride his mountain bike. He is a daredevil who carries extreme sports to their limits. He has crashed and totaled bikes many times. He runs red lights in the city. Near the beginning of the book he is going full speed with no brakes and has to take his bike over a high ledge on a back trail in the Barton Creek Greenbelt because three elderly lady hikers are looking at a map in the middle of the trail and freeze when they see him coming at them, unable to stop. He either has to hit them or go over the side. He gets pretty beat up, but doesn’t break any bones. He was lucky enough to land in the lake. His bike is history. His wealthy friend Tres was with him and helped him get to a safer place to rest. Andy always rode as fast as possible and took unnecessary risks.
When he wasn’t working or riding his bike, he sat around Guero’s Taco Bar or Jo’s Hot Coffee with his three best friends. Tres had a trust fund and a “hot” girlfriend, the kind Andy would like but only money could attract. Dave and Curtis were friends from Andy’s UT days. Curtis was a math TA at UT, and the friends relied on him for any kind of tech support they needed. While they were consuming food and beverages, all but Tres read the personal ads in the Lover’s Lane section of the online Austin Chronicle, trying to find some girl to go out with. The first chapters of the book focus on watching Andy go about his daily routines, wishing he had more money for a better bike, talking to the judge at court, meeting his buddies, riding his bike, thinking about how to find a “hot” girl, and living a life that doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.
Then one day a billionaire, Russell Reeves, well-known philanthropist, shows up at his office with his driver, Darrell, and his life changes. Reeves was referred by his secretary whose ticket Andy got dismissed. Reeves wants to renovate some old properties to create a low income housing development, but is afraid if he sends a high-powered corporate lawyer into SoCo, the populace will fight him just because he’s from the wealthy part of town. So he hires Andy, who is already accepted by the community, to convince the people to approve of the renovation. Russell offers Andy $400 a billable hour for this. Andy accepts, does his job, and gets a great new mountain bike and a motorcycle with money enough left over to buy his mother a proper birthday present and move into nicer living quarters. The girls finally know he’s alive.
Then Russell wants him to take on another assignment. According to Reeves, he has 17 ex-girlfriends he did not treat well in his younger days and he wants to make things right with them. He asks Andy to find them, talk to them to see how they are doing, and take their pictures so that he can make sure they are the right women. He will give Andy a trust fund to pay expenses, including hiring a private detective. As Andy goes down the list, he finds the first six women, each of whom happens to have one very sick child with a condition medical science can’t cure. But the seventh woman can’t be located and the detective says it’s because she doesn’t want to be found.
On his mother’s birthday, Andy visits his parents at their more rural home. They inquire about Andy’s new job. They press Andy for details about the new assignment, which seems rather strange to them. Andy thinks it’s all good, but his parents are wary. They are liberals who don’t trust those who got rich in corporate America. Even though Reeves has used a lot of his money for good, Andy’s parents think Andy is being used and is likely to be caught in a trap. His father warns him that ‘when things don’t seem right, they’re usually not.’ Even Andy has to admit that the cover story for his assignment to find the women doesn’t make much sense.
Here’s more you should know about Reeves. His seven-year-old son Zach has a rare incurable form of cancer. The doctors think he won’t last more than a year. Reeves has spent freely of his billions to try to find a cure. He has even opened The Reeves Research Institute on the campus of UT. So far, it hasn’t helped find a cure any faster. He s despairing, afraid he will lose his son. One study has been published by an anonymous doctor that indicates a “Person X” has stem cells that might help Zach.
Andy’s father, Paul, is also dying of cancer. He needs a new liver, but has at least a two-year wait to get one. Andy would like to save his father. Both Andy and Reeves would do anything possible to save their loved ones. Andy has met Zach and played video games with him. He admires Zach’s fighting spirit. Zach asks Andy for a private conversation and wants to talk about death since Zach couldn’t get his father to talk to him about it, so Andy tries to answer his questions. Zach has a genius I.Q. but that doesn’t tell him all he wants to know about what’s ahead for him.
Meanwhile, Andy hires a detective who is willing to stray from approved legal practices, unlike the detective Russell had recommended. He does locate the seventh woman. Andy finds her and talks to her, but her seven-year-old daughter is perfectly healthy. He is surprised by this. The woman, though, says she is fine and needs no help. (Andy had given each of the first six women a million dollars from Russell, and Russell had also used his influence to get the very best medical help for the children who needed to get into special facilities. ) By the time Andy gives Russell the address of the seventh woman, she disappears again.
Andy finally confronts Russell about the parts of his story that don’t make sense and accuses him of deceiving him about the purpose of finding the women. Russell comes clean and admits he is looking for the patient with the perfect immune system – Patient X. He is convinced the seventh woman, or her daughter, is Patient X. Andy keeps looking, but becomes unsure it’s the right thing to do. The list was actually the mothers of the children who were part of the experimental research referred to in the Prologue. Reeves had somehow gotten the list of patient names and their mothers, knowing that Patient X had been one of them.
Meanwhile, two people approach Alvin Adams, a research publication editor, in Queens. Adams had edited the research article about Patient X. The first to approach him is a lawyer, Mr. Smith, who bribes him to reveal the confidential name of Anonymous, who did the research. Adams stuffs the envelope containing the bribe money into his pocket and goes out to try to drink away a headache. As he starts home he is approached by someone in a black sedan who demands to know what Alvin told the lawyer. When he refuses, the man pulls a gun and asks him if the confidentiality is worth dying for. He decides not and reveals Tony Falco’s name. The man kills him anyway. Meanwhile, Tony Falco has moved his research to China where the political environment makes it easier for him to conduct his research.
By the time you get to this part of the book, you realize that two parties are both trying to find Patient X. Russell sees her as the only hope of saving his son. The thugs hired by the pharmaceutical companies want to kill her, but Andy doesn’t know about them yet. Andy is still looking for the woman he now knows is Patient X to help Zach, and maybe his father. But when he locates her again, the plot takes a surprising twist.
Andy has to choose between betraying his client, Reeves, and being disbarred while also losing the money that will make life easier for himself, or risking the life of Patient X by making her visible again. By this time Andy has become close to Zach and may also be falling in love with the mother of Patient X. His creative solution to this dilemma will have you on the edge of your seat until the book is finished.
Alerts: Some readers may be offended by the way some men seemed to consider women mere sexual playthings, and others may be offended by the portrayal of the anything goes dress and mores of some of the people. Parts of the plot are highly unrealistic, but unless extreme biking in large doses and bike chases bore you, you will still enjoy the book.