William Lashner

Victor Carl - "Ethically Adventurous" Lawyer, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


"A Killer's Kiss"

(Reviewed by Chuck Barksdale OCT 19, 2007)

“Oh, right, like you’ve never done it.

I don’t mean the stonewall-the-cops-while-the-dead-man’s-wife-is-lathering-herself-in-your-shower thing.  I mean the other thing, the important thing.  There is much that is easy in this world: downloading porn, stealing cable, Serbian girls, you know what I mean.  But of all that is easy in this world, nothing is easier than falling into bed with an old lover."

A Killer’s Kiss, William Lashner’s seventh book about Philadelphia Attorney Victor Carl, has everything you want and are accustomed to in this enjoyable series--great and believable characters, a good suspenseful story, local Philadelphia color and of course lots of humor.  Victor Carl again is faced with ethical challenges that always seem to lead him on the edge of right and wrong.  And of course his right and wrong are not always the same as the police’s or even the reader’s.  In the end though, Lashner creates in Victor Carl, not only a unique and interesting character, but one that readers accept and enjoy.

Victor finds himself in trouble soon after his one-time fiancée, Julia Denniston re-enters his life.  Victor is unable to resist trying to get back what he lost and is almost helpless in trying to find ways to assist Julia, even when the police come looking for her in Victor’s house right after Julia’s husband, Wren Denniston, is found murdered.  She’s there with Victor, but he doesn’t allow the police to find her and quickly gets her out of there.

Julia and Victor become main suspects as the police believe they conspired so that Julia could inherit the money from her wealthy husband.  However, Wren Denniston’s company is found to be bankrupt with some questionable financial practices.  Over a million dollars is missing and many people, including Greg Trocek, a tough Russian gangster acquaintance of Julia’s husband, are looking for the money and think Victor has it, or knows where it is.  Victor tries to stay true to Julia but her past behavior does cause some him some doubt especially when he catches her in several lies and discovers she also still cares about an old flame that is not Victor.

Victor is without his partner Beth Derringer who is on a sabbatical and instead of using his normal Private Investigator Phil Skink, he turns to one of his clients, Derek Moats, to take him into the drug depths of North Philadelphia to track down a possible drug related alibi for Julia.  Moats is another interesting and humorous character that by the end of the book was ready to work full time as an investigator for Victor Carl.

As I’ve mentioned in other reviews, I occasionally see William Lashner at Phillies games (he sits in the nice Hall of Fame Club seats at Citizen’s Bank Park) and he’s clearly a Phillies’ fan.  In his last book Marked Man, he took a shot at Pat Burrell, but in A Killer’s Kiss, he’s a lot nicer to Tony Taylor, a great Phillies player of his and my youth.  Victor Carl decides to pick that name as a pseudonym that fools no old Phillies fan such as Gwen McGrath, the Denniston’s live-in housekeeper.  Of course, Lashner is showing his age in picking someone not all that well known any more, but still giving something to his faithful Philadelphia area fans.

As in the past books in the series, A Killer’s Kiss can be read as a stand alone book.  Of course, with as enjoyable a writer as Lashner, you are better off starting earlier or even at the beginning of the series.  In the Acknowledgements section at the end of the book, William Lashner mentions that for the next few years he will not be writing about Victor Carl.  Hopefully, his new books will have characters as interesting as Victor Carl and that Victor will return in the not too distant future.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 36 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from A Killer's Kiss at author's website

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"Marked Man"

(Reviewed by Chuck Barksdale SEP 30, 2006)

"I started wiping away the ooze, but it hurt too much, my skin was for some reason too raw. With a little bit of water and soap, I gently washed away the ointment and blood.  Gradually, bit by bit, the thing underneath became clear.

A heart, bright red, with two small flowers peeking out from behind either side and a fluttering banner across it all, a banner with a name inscribed that I had to read backward in the mirror: Chantal Adair."

William Lashner’s Marked Man, the sixth book about Philadelphia Attorney Victor Carl, is another solid and exciting book in this entertaining series. I’ve been a fan of Lashner since Fatal Flaw his third book, and haven’t missed a book in the series since. This one maintains the great and interesting dialogue, characters, suspense and especially the humor that have made the prior books so good.   

As typical of many of his cases, Victor Carl again finds himself with a controversial client when his father asks for a rare favor to help out Zanita Kalakos, the mother of his father’s boyhood friend Charlie the Greek. Mrs. Kalakos is dying and she wants to see her son Charlie one last time.  Charlie had been arrested 15 years prior for a robbery of jewelry and paintings from the Randolph Museum and has been in hiding since getting out on bail. Also, for some other reasons unknown to Victor, the FBI is very interested in Charlie. Victor’s initial attempts to keep any negotiations to get Charlie immunity from the district attorney to allow him to see his mother backfires shortly after meeting with representatives of the Randolph Museum, leading Victor into some of his typical somewhat questionable public exposure on TV and newspapers. 

Shortly after taking on this case and as the book begins, Victor meets a woman in a bar and wakes up the next day forgetting most of what happened and finding a flowery tattoo on his chest with the words “Chantal Adair.” 

Victor hires his private investigator, Phil Skink, to try to determine who Chantal Adair is and why he has her name tattooed on his chest.  Since Chantal Adair is not an overly common name, Skink doesn’t find too many leads, but the best one turns out to be a stripper that Skink wants to investigate (for more than one reason) with Carl.  Carl is not too enthusiastic as he can’t imagine a stripper’s name would be tattooed on his chest and he is even less enthusiastic after meeting the stripper.  However, as it turns out, Monica Adair is the stripper’s real name and Chantal Adair is a stage name that she has taken in honor of her sister that disappeared shortly before Monica was born.  Although Victor Carl doesn’t see how a stripper could be the answer, Monica Adair seems to believe Victor is a connection to what happened to the real Chantal Adair and she persists in pushing Victor to look for the truth about her sister.

In another case, Victor’s partner Beth Derringer asks him to help Theresa Wellman, a woman with a questionable drug and alcohol past, regain custody of her daughter from her ex-husband. Her ex-husband, Bradley Hewitt, is an influential Philadelphian with connections at the highest level in the city. 

The three cases, although at first unrelated, intersect throughout the book as Victor pushes the police and the district attorney to allow Charlie to return to his mother, Victor and Phil try to find out who Chantal is and why her name is tattooed on Victor’s chest, and Beth and Victor fight against high profile Bradley Hewitt at the child custody trial (using typical and humorous Carl methods).  Lots of suspense as some people (both good and bad) don’t really want Charlie to go free and some of these same people seem to have connections to Chantal Adair.  Also Victor’s case with Beth Derringer includes the ongoing back story relationship with Victor and the uncertainties in her life.

As a Philadelphia area resident, I always enjoy the local color that William Lashner adds to his books, some of which only Philadelphians will “get.”  As a big Phillies fan, I enjoyed the not too subtle shot at the Phillies’ Pat Burrell. (I noticed Lashner at one of the 25 or so games I went to in 2005 so he’s probably a fan as well.)  Lashner does a great job of adding some Philadelphia trivia in a way that allows you to both picture what he is describing, but also in his typically funny way.

"Philadelphia’s City Hall is a grand monstrosity of a building set smack in the very center of William Penn’s plan for the city.  Four and a half acres of masonry in the ornate style of the French Second Empire, the building is bigger than any other city hall in the country, but that doesn’t say enough.  It is bigger than the United States Capitol.  The granite walls on the bottom floor are twenty-two feet thick, the bronze of Billy Penn is the tallest statue atop any building in the world.  You want to get an idea of the size of the thing?  About ten years ago, they removed thirty-seven tons of pigeon droppings from its roofs and statuary.  Seventy-four thousand pounds.  Think on that for a moment.  That’s a load of guano, even for a building designed for politicians.  If you can’t get lost in Philadelphia’s City Hall, you’re not trying very hard."

As in the past books in the series (and I still have not read the first two books), I believe that Marked Man is enjoyable as a stand alone book.  However, as is true with most series, reading books in a series in order is beneficial and since they are all good, you should start as early in the series as you can. By the way as I’ve  said in previous reviews, William Lashner is an interesting man to talk to so I’m also recommending going out to see him if he is touring nearby.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 28 reviews

 

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"Falls the Shadow"

(Reviewed by Chuck Barksdale JUN 12, 2005)

He started away and then stopped, turned toward me, almost lunged as he grabbed my shoulders and leaned into me. I recoiled from him, thinking for a moment he was going to kiss me for some reason, but that’s not what he did. He grabbed my shoulders, leaned close, and whispered in my ear as if cadres of eavesdroppers were close by.

“Leave him where he is, leave it be. For your own sake. You can’t imagine the price.”

Then he let me go and lurched off down the hallway and was gone.

William Lashner’s Falls the Shadow, the fifth Victor Carl book, is another excellent legal thriller in this great first person series set in the Philadelphia area. I was very impressed in 2003 when I read Fatal Flaw, and Lashner has continued to write great characters with exciting, intense and often funny scenes in both Past Due (2004) and now with Falls the Shadow.

In Falls the Shadow, Victor Carl and his partner, Beth Derringer are asked to help François Dubé who had already been found guilty of killing his wife. Victor and Beth are successful in finding some questionable history on Seamus Dent, a now-deceased key witness, who they found had a drug dealing past that was not disclosed by the police during the prior case. Now with a new trial, Victor must find witnesses or evidence to create a reasonable doubt that François killed his wife despite very good, but circumstantial evidence that was used to convict him the first time. In addition, Victor does not particularly like or trust Dubé, and Beth, who appears to be drawn to François’ charm, is not sure Victor will try his best to help François.

One very interesting character, Bob Pfeffer, perhaps the most interesting of all of William Lashner’s characters, is integral to many different parts of Falls the Shadow. Bob is a dentist who likes to meddle in everything and everyone, including Victor’s love life. He also seems to know everyone and was the dentist for François Dubé’s wife Leesa, the former witness Seamus Dent, François’ first attorney, Whitney Robinson III (who tries to convince Victor to not take the case), and of course, Victor Carl.

At first Victor’s relationship with Bob works well as he fixes Victor’s teeth and helps him with his love life. Bob’s meddling ways and his apparent knowledge and concern about Leesa Dubé leads Victor to suspect Bob may have had more than a passing interest in the case.

A key secondary story in the book concerns pro bono work that Victor does in helping Daniel Rose, a small child trying to live in a difficult family situation. Victor really shows his soft side as he pushes for what is right for Daniel, including having his teeth fixed by Bob the dentist, which Bob nicely does for free. Daniel’s home situation is not great and Victor does work hard to understand and improve Daniel’s situation.

Although I suspect most readers have never had to do a stakeout as Victor Carl does in the following scene, everyone that drinks coffee or knows someone who drinks coffee will appreciate the humor.

I was sitting in my car waiting for the day to break, and I was in pain. I had asked Phil Skink, my private investigator, if he had any tips on staking out an apartment. “Other than paying someone with half a clue to do it for you, mate?” he said. “Yes, Phil,” I said, “other than that.” Pro bono, Latin for “on the cheap.” So this is what he told me. Make sure there is no way out the back door of the building. Check. Use a car that fits in socioeconomically with the neighborhood. Check. Reconnoiter the neighborhood to find the best place to set up. Check. Park in front of a store or a bar. Check. Sit in the front passenger seat so it looks like you’re waiting for someone. Check. Sit low. Check. Have a cover story in case a cop or neighbor gets curious. Check. Buy your coffee small. Well, there was maybe where I might have messed up.

I started early, well before old man dawn even put on his surgical socks, and so a small cup of coffee was simply not going to do it for me. Grande or venti? What about big? Whatever happened to just plain big? Give me something big, I said to the barista, who was not young, pierced, and rude but was fat, Greek, and rude, who worked the counter of my diner, and who would have punched me in the face if I called him a barista. Something big I said, and now I was paying for it.

I jiggled my leg, thought about dry things, kept my eye on the door beside Tommy’s High Ball on Daniel Rose’s West Philly street. I was parked across from his building and down a bit, in front of a still-closed bodega. Nothing had yet gone in or out that door, but I knew, I just knew, that the instant I left the street to empty the soggy, storm-tossed sea that was my bladder, the door would open, the mark would exit, the morning would be lost. So I waited and watched and jiggled my leg and thought of desert sands, of camels and Bedouins, of all manner of desiccated things.

Although I still have not read the first two books in this series, I believe that Falls the Shadow as well as the other books may be enjoyed without having read any of the other books in the series. Last year I met William Lashner briefly when I picked up my copy of Past Due and he mentioned that he writes the books so that they do work well as standalones. However, as is true with most series, reading books in a series in order is beneficial and I do plan on reading the other two soon. I’ve also seen a slight, but definite change in Victor Carl in the last three books as he has become more likable and a little less questionable in his legal practices.

As someone who lives and works in the Philadelphia area, I do enjoy reading the local color in the series. I met William Lashner today and asked him about an apparent geographic mistake I saw in Falls the Shadow. He explained that he often confuses his direction as, although he lived north of Philadelphia, he never felt as though he was going south to the city so he often confuses his north and south Philadelphia neighborhoods. Not a big deal and possibly corrected between the advanced reading copy that I read and the final printing, but something some purists may find fault. By the way, William Lashner himself is an interesting man to talk to so I’m also recommending going out to see him if he is touring nearby.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 47 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Falls the Shadow at author's website

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"Fatal Flaw"

(Reviewed by Chuck Barksdale JUL 8, 2003)

William Lashner's third Victor Carl book, Fatal Flaw, is an excellent legal thriller that also has enough complex and enigmatic characters to be considered a psychological thriller as well. William Lashner is by far the best new author I have read in several years and this book is highly recommended to anyone who likes strong, complex, although not necessarily likeable characters, realistic dialogue with a somewhat darker story than most legal thrillers.

Read excerptWhen Victor Carl finds his friend and former law school classmate Guy Forrest sitting outside the house from his just murdered fiancée, Hailey Prouix, he immediately assumes that Guy is the murderer. He knows Guy and Hailey were having relationship problems because, he, Victor, is having an affair with Hailey. With all evidence pointing to Guy -- the gun in the hands of the near-naked Guy, the lies about any relationship problems, the non-existent alibi -- Victor immediately sets out to defend Guy, in a mostly unethical way, to take revenge for Hailey's murder by ensuring that Guy will be found guilty.

This excerpt gives some insight into Guy and Hailey, Victor Carl's opinion of that relationship, as well as a good example of William Lashner's imagery and characterization.

Guy said he loved Hailey Prouix, and he did. I had no doubt, but where on the emotional matrix, his particular brand of love fell, I couldn't for certain have told you. Was it selfless and devotional? Not likely. Was it platonic? Viagra, lambskin condoms, the way Hailey could turn even the most innocuous remark into something blatantly erotic, please. Was it a romantic dream, a mutual commingling of souls to last through all eternity? I guessed not. Was it a false projection of all his hopes and aspirations on a person ill equipped, no matter how lovely, to make those hopes and aspirations come true? There lay my bet. Whenever we look in our lover's eyes, we see a reflection of the person we hope to become and that, I believed, was what Guy fell in love with. It wasn't pure narcissism; the reflection in her eyes was different from the reflection in his morning mirror. The mirror showed a man trapped by the dreary burdens of a certain kind of success, Hailey showed to him all the freedom for which his soul pined. To Guy Forrest, Hailey was more than a woman, more than a lover - she was his way out.

However, while Victor thinks he understands Hailey, and Guy's motives and for killing her, he slowly finds that things are not really as he thought. He eventually realizes that Guy is not in fact the killer and decides to defend him in earnest. Victor and his legal partner Beth Derringer decide to look into Hailey's life to better understand her in an attempt to track down her murderer. These travels lead them to Las Vegas, Nevada, the location of a retirement home for the uncle that raised her and Pierce, West Virginia, Hailey's hometown. These investigations lead to the uncovering of a very complex, troubled past for Hailey and her family that provides some psychological understanding for Hailey's character and why she acted the way she did.

This excerpt, one of my favorites, shows Victor's first meeting with Hailey, when Guy Forrest introduces her to him.

She sits across from me, leaning away from me, arms crossed, legs crossed. She leans away from me, but her bright red lips are curved and challenging. She raises her cigarette to her mouth. Her blue eyes, framed dramatically by the dark rails of her glasses, squint from the smoke. Her narrowed gaze rakes across my face, down my throat. I look at her and forget to breathe.

"Victor," says Guy Forrest, sitting beside her at the table, "I'd like you to meet Hailey Prouix."

"So pleased," I say, and I am.

We are in a Spanish restaurant on Twelfth Street, modern, cruelly lit, cold stone tables for the hot paella. You want comfort, stay in bed. Guy had called and asked me to meet him, and here I am, forgetting to breathe, and I feel a love surging inside me. Love not for her, because she is nothing yet but possibilities, instead love for my dear friend Guy, who thought well enough of me to introduce me to her, to set up this setup. Was ever a friend dearer?

Unfortunately, Victor quickly finds out that Guy has fallen in love with Hailey and he wasn't setting Victor up with Hailey. Although in the end, this is exactly the result.

I take a sip of my Sea Breeze and I am suffused with the bitter aftertaste of disappointment. But is it with Guy, with what he is going to do to his wife and his children and the image I had held of his happy, happy family, or is it because he hasn't brought her to the restaurant for me?

When she returns, the conversation is awkward, charmless, wryless. There is no longer flirtation in the air. Guy talks, I listen. Hailey smokes. But at the end, as we part and say our good-byes, in a moment while Guy looks away, I am staring once again at her lips when they silently mouth "Call me," and I do.

These two short excerpts are very well written with some sensuality, humor and sadness. The excerpts also clearly show that all three of these people have character defects that make them difficult to like, something that some readers may find too significant to really enjoy this book. Although I had some initial concerns about Victor Carl, his character improves enough to be likeable.

The courtroom scenes, most of which are in the second half of the book are also enjoyable. Victor Carl uses many legal tricks to influence the judge and confuse the District Attorney. Many of these scenes are also very amusing.

Although I definitely want to go back and read the two previous books in this series, I did not have any difficulty in reading this book without having read the first two. This book works great as a standalone, although I'm also pleased that more books in the series are available and will be written in the future.

As someone who works in Philadelphia and lives in the area, I was looking forward to reading this Philadelphia based series. Unfortunately, not much other than the courtroom scenes occur in the Philadelphia area. Of course, I really enjoyed this book and the limited local (Philadelphia) color did not reduce my pleasure.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 52 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Fatal Flaw at MostlyFiction.com



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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

Victor Carl Series:

Stand-alone:

Writing as Tyler Knox:

 

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Book Marks:

 

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About the Author:

William LashnerWilliam Lashner, a former Philadelphia lawyer, is a graduate of New York University Law School and the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. He has served as trial attorney in the Criminal Division of the United States Justice Department.

He lives with his family outside of Philadelphia.

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