“Ariel’s Island” by Pat McKee

Ariel’s Island (Southern Fried Karma LLC, 2020) by Pat McKee is a wickedly intelligent, provocative, and creative novel which checks all the boxes of a riveting legal thriller. A “Best Legal Thriller” winner at the 14th annual National Indie Excellence Awards, Ariel’s Island stars six-year associate Paul McDaniel. He is a one-time poor boy whose intellect and drive earn him a spot at an elite Atlanta law firm. Paul appears to be over his head in what starts out as a conventional legal thriller centered on an approaching trial in a patent lawsuit. But hang on—there is a spin here that rocks the story into decidedly modern times and adds intrigue upon intrigue in a multi-layered story. Yet however contemporary the plot is, its foundation harkens back to Shakespeare’s The Tempest, modernizing the classic tale of Prospero, Caliban, and Ariel, the air spirit.

The opening pages establish the so-called suicide of a senior partner who fell from a great height onto a spike in a fountain in front of Paul’s prestigious law firm. Gruesome beginning it is, but also captivating stage-setting. Savvy readers will suspect at once that this is no suicide. The dead man was lead trial attorney on a scorched-earth, multi-million-dollar patent infringement case between the firm’s clients—brothers Placido and Antonio Milano and their billion-dollar Milano corporation—and a mysterious challenger named SyCorAx. Paul was to be second chair in the rapidly approaching trial. SyCorAx claimed Milano stole key patents from them. Rather than replace the deceased lead attorney with another equally experienced lawyer, the firm tosses Paul into the maelstrom of the case. He seems sure to lose. As with many a legal thriller, the odds are rapidly stacked against this young man. But hang on—the courtroom patent lawsuit is only the opening salvo in what becomes a fiercely suspenseful, often surprising, and consummately intricate story. While there’s enough about the trial to satisfy courtroom junkies, the most intense parts of this well-written story follow the resolution of the litigation.

The mysterious and able assistant Ariel enters the story and helps Paul gather pre-trial information. Paul is convinced that Ariel could read his mind, so helpful she is at “anticipating [his] needs for any arcane patent information…and provid[ing] it as soon as requested.” Later, she will appear on an exclusive Georgia coastal island. Ariel’s appearance while Paul is swimming in the Atlantic has just a hint of magical realism, but hang-on again. Another spin is coming as the novel seamlessly morphs from legal thriller to technological thriller.

While on the exclusive island, Placido Milano’s daughter Melissa meets with Paul, her uncle Anthony Milano, and the prominent senior partner in the law firm. After an elegant dinner, Melissa arranges to secretly meet Paul later that night. In the past, Paul had casually dated her even though he believed her out of his class. She implores him to help her. She claims her uncle Antony is holding her hostage and that he tried to kill her father. Melissa is seductive in her pleas and Paul is quickly infatuated. But is she telling the truth? Does she return his renewed attraction? Does she only view him as her father’s attorney who might also help her? Or, as one person warns Paul, is there something wrong with her?

Before leaving the island, Paul becomes further embroiled in a nefarious stock take-over scheme potentially worth billions. When the judge in the patent trial, a senior partner, and a loyal house servant are murdered, Paul senses a trap. Correctly believing he will be accused of the three murders, he flees. Conflicts and intrigue multiply as he tries to clear his name, save his life, and salvage his career—and rescue Melissa.

But hang on again. The second half of the novel has more of a “hero’s journey” style to it than legal thriller, including many wonderful characters Paul meets on his journey. The enigmatic and able assistant Ariel plays a bold, mysterious hand in all that follows, raising not only intrigue and suspense, but many a thoughtful ethical question.

Paul, who tells the story in first person, is a mesmerizing character. His analytical mind is both his ally and his enemy. His character has a backstory similar to the author’s own—both the fictional Paul and the very real Pat McKee were raised in orphanages. Paul’s fictional school and orphanage was called Thornwood, where he graduated high school; author McKee grew up at Thornwell, an orphanage in South Carolina, and graduated from its high school.

Fictional Paul says of himself, “I harbored the insecurity that poverty breeds, always trying to prove, if to none other than myself, that I was the equal of anyone whose birth had given them a status I felt that I could never achieve.” But his quest to join the wealthy and elite is not easy and presents thorny morality concerns. When confronted with apparent bribery of a judge and the possible collusion between his clients and the attorney for the opposing party, Paul ruminates about his goals:

In a few hours, had I transformed from one who at least espoused a belief in the principles of law, of concepts of good and evil, to one who was willing to see things excused by money, pardoned by power? I had wanted all my life to be one of the wealthy and privileged; now that I was one, was I willing to pay the price to stay?

With superb edge-of-your-seat plotting, an attorney’s accuracy of legal details, technological advances, and multiple absorbing characters, plus the ever-mysterious Ariel, this book is a definite winner. It delves into many a modern ethical quandary. Ariel’s Island is a thought-provoking book, as well as an adventurous tale containing more than one double-cross. It also has the blessing of truly excellent writing with sentences that ring with attentive prose. Pat McKee knows how to nail down an image or character with descriptions, reflecting the author’s keen observational powers. For example, he aptly describes the small-town coroner as having “the professional appearance of a part-time shade-tree mechanic whose full-time job was drinking beer.”

McKee is an Emory Law School graduate who lives and practices law in Georgia. This is his first book of fiction. He plans future novels with Paul and Ariel and perhaps others that will be inspired by Shakespeare’s plays. A portion of the proceeds from his book are donated to Thornwell, which he counts as a “significant and positive influence in my life.” McKee said, “I want to do what I can to help Thornwell rebuild the library that was so important in my education.”

Comments

  1. Ariel’s Island is a fantastic read. I hope everyone will pick up a copy and read this mysterious thriller!. Pat McKee does a masterful job of developing characters, with several plot twists the reader does not see coming. Enjoy!
    Laura Meredith, Owner
    Newnan Book Company
    Newnan, Georgia

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