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eBook Review: Ehrengraf For the Defense and Eleven Stories by Lawrence Block

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There’s never been a lawyer like Martin Ehrengraf. Like Perry Mason, he never loses a case. Well, if memory serves, Perry lost one or two, so that would make Ehrengraf the guy you want. Especially if you are guilty, or all the evidence says you are. Even if you say you are.

The amazing thing about  Ehrengraf, as illustrated in Lawrence Block’s The Ehrengraf Defense is that he rarely sees the inside of a courtroom. As Martin says, “I don’t much care for the whole idea of leaving a man’s fate in the hands of 12 people, not one of them clever enough to get out of jury duty.” 

Additionally, Ehrengraf  doesn’t pass his hours poring over dusty legal volumes, or searching the Lexis database. He doesn’t have a photographic memory which would allow him to recall obscure case law in order to help his client. What Ehrengraf is is a criminal lawyer who takes cases on a contingency basis; he collects a fee only when his client goes free. And his client always goes free, because his clients always turn out to be innocent. Ehrengraf’s fees are hefty, but when you consider a lengthy prison sentence, or even capital punishment as the only alternative, well Ehrengraf fee is rather reasonable.

And don’t even think of trying to negotiate or even squirrel out of paying. As the client in the first story does because you’ll find that the same sly devilish logical process Martin Ehrengraf brings to the table in your defense, he also applies to his bill collecting.

The author has this to say, in the forward to the collection, about the amazingly amoral little lawyer in the spiffy suits with the elegant manner;

“When I finished writing The Ehrengraf Defense in 1976, I knew I had found a character I’d like to revisit. But it was Fredric Dannay’s immediate enthusiasm for Ehrengraf that made me write one story after another about the diminutive attorney. Fred, of course, was one of a pair of cousins who wrote Ellery Queen mysteries, and it was Fred who edited Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and he snapped up the stories as quickly as I wrote them.”

“Ehrengraf’s debut grew out of a plot device; in the course of my writing the story, Martin Ehrengraf came into being. In his second appearance, (The Ehrengraf Presumption ), we see him more fully realized, tailoring his approach to the case to suit circumstances, and altering them to his purpose.”

The Ehrengraf Presumption: “Any client of Martin H. Ehrengraf is presumed by Ehrengraf  to be innocent, which presumption is invariably confirmed in due course, the preconceptions of the client himself notwithstanding.” – Words to live by–Martin Ehrengraf, The Ehrengraf Presumtion

Ehrengraf’s first story appeared in 1978, in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. Ten stories were published through 2003, and now, after almost a decade, the dapper little lawyer is back (only in eBook form, and only for Kindle) in The Ehrengraf Settlement. All 11 Ehrengraf stories, exclusively eVailable as Kindle Select titles, are available singly or gathered up into the full-length eBook (click the title at the top). Martin Ehrengraf would no doubt find a way for you to buy them singly at a buck a piece, but Lawrence Block cornered Ehrengraf to make the entire collection available in one volume.

Back in 1994, when there were only eight stories, a small press collected them in a limited edition of Ehrengraf for the Defense. (That little volume commands $250 to $1250 on the collector market—if you can find it.) Edward D. Hoch, acknowledged master of short mystery fiction, wrote an appreciative introduction, and Lawrence Block added an afterword. Hoch’s introduction is reprinted in the  new enlarged eDition of the stories, and Block has updated his afterword.

Lawrence Block over the course of a career spanning from the late ‘50s through today, has created some of the most memorable characters in fiction. This includes Bernie Rhodenbarr, the deft burglar who preys on New York’s wealthy and effortlessly relieves them of there valuables. The poor, as Bernie would be the first to tell you, alas, have nothing worth stealing.

Then there is Matthew Scudder, the melancholy, alcoholic shamus. Ex-cop and ex-husband Scudder is my all time favorite detective. Then there is Keller. Keller is your basic urban Lonely Guy. He makes a decent wage, lives in a nice apartment. Works the crossword puzzle. Watches a little TV. Until the phone rings and he packs a suitcase, gets on a plane, flies halfway across the country… and kills somebody.

Those are just a few of the latest Block characters, and he can create them and people the stories like no other author in recent memory. Ehrengraf adds to the legend. Martin Ehrengraf is amoral, but strictly legal… sort of. He is devilishly clever and knows how to, let us say, capitalize on the Ehrengraf principle. The reader will be in awe of the ‘legal’ expertise of Ehrengraf, but left wondering just how he gets away with it. What Ehrengraf does is somehow convince the police, through the presentation of overwhelming evidence, to drop the case against his client. Usually this process is near miraculous, which is why his clients retain him. “I’m reasonably well off,” says Alvin Gort in the second story when he is informed that Ehrengraf will take his case for $100,000 dollars. “I know.” says Ehrengraf. “It’s an admirable quality in clients.”

Even when the physical, circumstantial, and eye witness evidence is overwhelming, and even when his client states he did it, Ehrengraf will prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt that his client is innocent, not only convincing the police but oft times convincing his client. Or clients, as the case maybe. When Alvin Gort confesses to Ehrengraf “But I did it.” Ehrengraf says, “Nonsense. Palpable nonsense.”

The Ehrengraf stories are satirical, logic puzzles, and as the reader will see, Ehrengraf is perhaps more a manipulator of logic than he is of the law. They are deviously clever. No wonder that they are so popular, especially with members of the legal profession. Make of that what you will.

The Ehrengraf Defense
File Size: 549 KB Print Length: 167 pages Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Publisher: Lawrence Block (June 11, 2012) Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc. Language: English ASIN: B008AX0IUQ
Text-to-Speech: Enabled X-Ray: Not Enabled Lending: Enabled

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About The Dirty Lowdown

I was born in Pomona, California at a very young age. I had a pretty normal childhood…or I was a pretty normal child hood if mom is telling the story. I was a paperboy and washed cars. I was a soda fountain jock-jerk and a manic mechanic but my first real job was as a labor organizer in a maternity ward. Then, because of the misjudgment of a judge I spent nearly 10 years in the service of our country mostly on KP duty. Our country sure turns out a lot of dirty dishes. I am a past master at pots and pans. They eventually recognized my real talent and let me wander around some very unfriendly places carrying a big radio that didn’t work. Along the way I took up the bass guitar, jotting down stories, electronic engineering and earned a degree in advanced criminal activities. I spent most of my adult life, if you can call it that, working in the I.T. industry, which I was particularly suited for since we worked in rooms with no windows. On and off I taught in colleges, universities and reform schools as a student teacher… I like smog, traffic, kinky people, car trouble, noisy neighbors, and crowded seedy bars where I have been known to quote Raymond Chandler as pickup lines. I have always been a voracious reader, everything from the classics, to popular fiction, history to science but I have a special place in my heart for crime fiction, especially hard-boiled detective fiction and noir. I write a book and music review blog for all genres at The Dirty Lowdown. And another dedicated to Crime Fiction and all things Noir called Crimeways. It’s named after the magazine that appeared in the Kenneth Fearing classic, The Big Clock. There I write scholarly reviews of the classic hard boiled, noir and crime fiction books from the 20's through today. Mostly I drool over the salacious pictures on the covers. I also write for Tecnorati/BlogCritics where i am part of a sinister cabal of superior writers.