Paul Levine knocks the rust off Jake Lassiter, his first and best-loved crime buster.
After selling his soul in Hollywood for a dozen years — and not without some middling success — Paul Levine returns to the scene of the crime tonight. Actually many crimes, most defended or solved by Dolphins linebacker-turned-lawyer Jake Lassiter.
For a list of upcoming activities at the Florida Center for the Literary Arts, visit the center’s website. And mark your calendar: This year’s Miami Book Fair International runs Nov. 13-20.
When Levine takes the podium at Books & Books in Coral Gables this, he evening, he’ll be reading from the first new Jake Lassiter novel in 12 years, titled, conveniently, Lassiter. What the title may lack in imagination, it makes up in storytelling value.
It’s a tense yet amiable chase through South Florida’s porn industry as Jake labors to defend a beautiful but deranged young woman against charges she murdered the mobster who may or may not have killed her wayward sister.
Lassiter was Levine’s first hero, gaining readers and awards through six novels between 1990 and 1998.
“Jake’s voice has been with me since I wrote To Speak for the Dead,” says Levine, who is thinking seriously about moving home to Miami full-time. “The big lug has been with me a long time, and I’m coming back to my roots, on the page and in real life, too.”
A Miami Herald reporter before he became a lawyer, Levine found a growing readership first with the Lassiter books, then with the comic-suspense Solomon & Lord series, featuring a squabbling pair of Miami lawyers.
To Speak for the Dead was made into a decent TV movie in 1995, although the bonehead producers denatured the whole thing by relocating the story from Miami — a virtual character in Levine’s books — to New Orleans. Jake is a retired second-string linebacker for the Dolphins, not the Saints, for pity’s sake!
But the experience was enough to draw Levine to L.A., where veteran producer (and fellow crime novelist) Stephen J. Cannell became his mentor. Levine wrote 20 episodes of the hit show JAG, and his Supreme Court novel, 9 Scorpions, was turned into a one-season drama titled First Monday, with Levine as co-creator and producer.
Not bad for a writer who went Hollywood at the advanced age of 51.
“Before I traveled west, I thought Hollywood writers rolled into work around 11 a.m., scribbled for a couple hours, drank their lunch at Musso and Frank’s, then cracked wise with starlets the rest of the day,” Levine writes on his website. “Like Rick, who came to Casablanca for the waters, I was misinformed.”
Now Hollywood’s loss is literature’s gain. No kiddding — he’s been nominated for the Edgar, the Mcavity, the International Thiriller Writers Award, and he won the John D. MacDonald Award for Excellence in Florida Fiction.
As Levine shows in Lassiter, he’s one of the more adept entertainers in the legal thriller biz. For one thing, he writes a clean prose that’s never embarrassed me or made me wonder why I’m not doing something else.
Levine blends humor and suspense about as well as anyone. His plots are twisty but not impenetrable, and although the pages flip by as if of their own accord, he somehow manages to give shading to all the characters. Even the villains have believable virtues, the hero and his friends and allies have some deeply etched flaws.
Lassiter not only brings back his most beloved hero, but also the Levine take on Miami. I asked if, after living in L.A. for so many years, he had to research his old haunts to see whether buildings had been knocked down, seedy bars gentrified, or streets turned into pedestrian promenades.
“I called Dave Barry and asked about the old drawbridge over the Miami River at Brickell,” Levine says. “Asked if it’s stlll there since they’ve been talking about replacing it with a modern bridge (that wouldn’t back up traffic) for about 40 years. He told me it was. I hope he’s right.”
Levine will be at the Books & Books store in Coral Gables tonight at 8 p.m. The event is free. For more information visit the store’s website. He’ll also be at the Broward County Library in downtown Fort Lauderdale on Friday at 2 p.m., also a free event. Visit the library website for details. And on Friday night he’ll be in Delray Beach at Murder on the Beach bookstore at 7.
then Levine makes up for it with the story, a tense yet amiable voyage through South Florida’s porn subculture as Jake defends a beautiful and slightly unhinged woman for murdering the man who may or may not have killed her wayward sister.
A former Miami lawyer himself,