June Read of the Month: “Fast Break,” by Terry Lewis

Terry Lewis

Reviewed by Claire Matturro

Ever since Scott Turow re-energized the legal thriller with his critically acclaimed and commercially successful Presumed Innocent, there’s been a bounty of novels written by lawyers about lawyers and legal proceedings. Into this now-crowded field, former Florida circuit court judge Terry Lewis spins a compelling, authentic tale of courtroom intrigue and murder in Fast Break (Moonshine Cove, May 2022). Lewis’s Fast Break is a first-rate legal thriller, offering all the elements readers have come to appreciate in this genre and written with a former judge’s knowledge of the inner workings of the legal world.

In Fast Break, single mother attorney Kate Marston defends a sitting judge against first degree murder charges in the death of a beautiful, but somewhat shady woman attorney. The judge might well be guilty. Even Kate isn’t sure. Further complicating the situation, Kate does not like the judge and knows him to be less than ethical. However, she is resolved to defend him to the best of her ability in this headline-grabbing case.

A newly divorced mother of a ten-year old daughter, Kate needs this case. She recently left a prestigious law firm under less than ideal circumstances and is now a sole practitioner. Given her status, she is suspicious of why a prominent judge would turn to her for his defense, but writes it off finally as family loyalty as the judge and Kate’s father are long-time friends. But a lingering suspicion about the judge’s motives teases Kate and readers even as Kate moves forward with the defense.

As the case against the judge gains momentum and the circumstantial evidence against him mounts, Kate retains another lawyer to help her. Their relationship is cautiously professional, but hints of mutual attraction add another layer of human interest to Fast Break.

Professionally, Kate’s life is complicated by two other cases. A star college football player caught in a gambling scandal retains her, and complications from this representation soon multiply. Additionally, an abused wife wanting both an injunction and a divorce seeks out Kate for legal help. The needs of these clients pull her in different and potentially conflicted directions from defending the judge as the author realistically conveys the difficulties of representing multiple clients in a lawyer’s practice.

Kate’s life is increasingly stressful. Her ex-husband’s failure to abide by their settlement agreement demands her limited time and her daughter needs more attention than Kate seems able to provide. Her mother’s puzzling but strong opposition to Kate’s defense of the judge confounds and progressively frustrates Kate, even as an old and treasured family friend might be a key witness—and not for the defense.

Things only get worse as Kate’s determination to defend the judge is challenged on a widening variety of fronts. Her former law firm files an ethics complaint against Kate in an apparent attempt to drive her off the case—or is there more involved than she understands? When she and her daughter are threatened and her own family caught in a ring of suspicions, Kate must confront a set of rapidly spiraling situations which might lead to far more damage than she ever contemplated.

Set in Tallahassee, Florida, with sex tapes, college football politics, legalized gambling, and hints of organized crime, the story has a sexy, ripped-from-headlines quality without becoming salacious or gratuitous. Told with the precision and accurate legalities readers would expect from Lewis, the story moves at an admirable pace, with crisp writing, honest dialogue, layered plotting, and complex characters—all combined to a maximum advantage. Lewis maintains a Turow Presumed Innocent vibe throughout. The novel delivers a startling ending, which once revealed, seems inevitable and yet also surprising. Fast Break is a five-star winner from an author at the top of his game.

Lewis, who was a trial judge for thirty years, is now in private practice, concentrating in mediations and arbitrations. His prior legal thrillers include Conflict of Interest, Privileged Information and Delusional. He is also the author of an award-winning historical novel, Incognito.

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