What makes south Florida such a fertile source of literary inspiration, from Elmore Leonard to Carl Hiaasen to a host of others? Perhaps it is the diverse cross-cultural pollination; often called the capital of Latin America, Miami boasts a wide assortment of cultural influences and populations. Then there’s all the money, be it laundered from drug operations or not. The wealthy of Central and South America pump untold millions (if not billions) into Florida’s economy, and lots of money draws all sorts of people from the woodwork, just like honey draws flies (a corpse does the same thing, of course, but we’ll get to that in a minute). And then there’s the weather, with sun, sand, and just the occasional hurricane to keep things interesting (and sometimes more than interesting). These elements, among others, converge to make Miami not just a popular playground for the rich but also make it rich fodder for cockeyed storytelling.
In that regard, former trial attorney Paul Levine uses his Miami backdrop to good effect as he offers up a ribald romantic battle of the sexes in his new book, Solomon vs. Lord. To many observers, Steve Solomon is properly regarded as a legal bottom-feeder, a lawyer who barely graduated from law school (Order of the Coif? With Highest Honors? Get outta here!). His office is above a modeling agency and his typical clients are a motley collection, from an immigrant operating an illegal exotic animal operation to the wheelchair bound fellow who would like to sue whoever is responsible for making aspects of his favorite strip clubs inaccessible (he’s thinking it would make an excellent lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act). The nickname “Last Out” still haunts him (he managed to get picked off in the ninth inning of a game that would’ve sent the University of Miami baseball team to the College World Series), as does his father’s disgraceful departure from the state court where he had been a popular judge, if not a parent (Steve’s father now describes himself as a “recovering lawyer”).
Victoria Lord, on the other hand, exudes the charm and grace of the Miami tennis club set. With her newly minted law degree (from Yale, don’t you know), she’s working for the local D.A.’s office and is planning her wedding to a wealthy local avocado farmer. She must love the guy—after all, she’s become a vegan for him, even though she’s allergic to avocados. Victoria and Steve meet, as fate would have it, in a courtroom. She’s prosecuting his client, who Steve knows is guilty as sin. But Steve’s job is to get his client off, no matter what. He baits Victoria and they both end up in contempt of court. When the judge lets them out and the trial resumes, Steve still manages to steer Victoria into a mistrial (probably the best thing he could have hoped for, under the circumstances). This turn of events causes Victoria’s supercilious boss to fire her on the spot. Which leads somewhat predictably to tears, and somewhat less predictably to Steve holding Victoria’s shoes hostage so that he can see her again.
When Victoria’s tennis buddy Katrina Barksdale is indicted for the murder of her older husband during a little rugged bedroom playtime, Katrina wants Victoria to handle her case. Steve manages to finagle his way into a partnership (mostly by showing up early, misrepresenting himself to Katrina, and then telling Victoria that the only way to get rid of him would be to embarrass herself by letting Katrina know the “real” state of affairs). Together, Solomon and Lord have to come up with a viable defense for their client, who harbors more than a few secrets, isn’t telling them everything, and may well have had both motive and opportunity for murder. They also have to contend with a separate legal skirmish over Bobby, Solomon’s autistic savant nephew, who has a tendency to blurt out defaming anagrams of people’s names and who Solomon essentially kidnapped from the drug commune his sister had been living in (Bobby had been locked in a cage in a shed). The child protective service doesn’t think Solomon is a fit guardian, and all of a sudden Victoria is representing Solomon in his fight with the state. Not to mention fighting her growing passion for a rude, uncouth slob whose primary parental skill appears to be providing his nephew with new terms of art for female anatomy.
Levine delivers an raunchy, risqué version of the classic bickering of Tracy and Hepburn; some might be more likely reminded of the banter on TV’s Moonlighting between Cybil Shepard and Bruce Willis (and I’m certain some are familiar with neither—shame on you, you should stop reading this review, and immediately take yourself to a place from which you could obtain DVDs of said entertainment products. Okay, maybe you can finish the review and read the book, but really – you don’t know what you’re missing). Levine has crafted two excellent foils for one another and placed them in the freakish craziness of the Miami legal community; the claws are definitely out, and many scenes are in fact laugh-out-loud funny.
I would have to say that the “plot” of this story is far less important than the journey between the story’s two principal protagonists. Indeed, Levine crafts a number of intersecting subplots – Victoria’s obsessed-obsessed fiancée, Steve’s problems relating to his father, a power-hungry clinical psychologist who wants guardianship of Bobby for her own purposes, and a few other threads – that all tie into the principal murder trial. The story here isn’t really whether Katrina is guilty or whether Solomon and Lord get her off on a technicality; the story is about whether Solomon and Lord hook up themselves.
Solomon vs. Lord is a humorous, fast-paced legal romp (it’s hard to call it a “thriller”). The characters are entertaining, the plot a bit threadbare but eminently serviceable, and the dialogue is crisp and often wickedly barbed. Apparently, Solomon vs. Lord is the first book in a planned series, and if the next is as entertaining as the first, it will be a welcome return.
Author’s Note: This article was originally posted at Wallo World.