The Tenth Case is former criminal defence attorney Joseph Teller’s debut novel. Defence lawyer Harrison J. Walker, known as Jaywalker, is to face suspension from the bar following the use of inappropriate tactics to win a case, and receiving a certain favour in the courthouse stairwell from a satisfied client. However due to his exceptional acquittal record and large workload, he is allowed to finish ten of his cases before suspension.
While the first nine cases are dealt with comparatively smoothly, it is his tenth case that tests his capabilities, and threatens to undermine his record. When elderly billionaire Barrington Tannenbaum is found dead in his Manhattan apartment, all the evidence points to his 26-year-old wife, Samara Moss. A former prostitute, and portrayed by the tabloids as a gold-digger, Samara continually attests to her innocence. It is up to Jaywalker to convince the jury that this young, petite, pretty Cinderella is no killer.
It is a refreshing change for the lead character to be an experienced, mature man dealing with his own issues privately; rather than the cocky young rookie who appears in so many law court novels. Teller himself describes Jaywalker as his “alter ego”, and works places and situations from his career into the story. Samara remains something of a riddle throughout, at times one hardly knows what to make of her. Teller does a grand job of keeping things under wraps while revealing so much.
Despite the subject matter being what it is, there is still a healthy humour within the pages. From a New Yorker’s frustration with the pedestrian crossings to stereotypes within the law profession, there are moments guaranteed to raise more than a smile.
Although the book spans more than three years, it certainly does not take that long to read The Tenth Case, as it is a considerably fast page-turner. The complexities of the US legal system are explained as and when is needed, and in simple, un-patronising language to aid the reader’s comprehension of the trial; while the trial itself is presented almost in script form.
For a first novel, Teller has produced a thrilling, gripping courtroom drama that from the first page to the last simply does not allow the reader to put it down.