Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh

Thirteen (or Th1rt3en as the title appears on the cover) by Steve Cavanagh is a legal thriller set in New York. It opens with sociopathic killer Joshua Kane posing as a rough sleeper who murders a man called for jury service and assumes his identity. Meanwhile, defence lawyer Eddie Flynn, himself a former con artist, is engaged to defend a young movie star, Robert Solomon, accused of murdering his wife and bodyguard, and needless to say, it's the jury in this very case on which Kane has secured a place. That's the basic premise on which the novel is sold: that the killer is not in the dock but on the jury.

It's a really interesting  and original idea, but unfortunately I can't say I really enjoyed this book very much. The plot is frankly ridiculous - there is simply no way on earth that Kane could ever have successfully pulled off what we're expected to believe he does, particularly on such a grand scale - but I could actually have lived with that if this was a well-written thriller. However, it's absolutely riddled with clichés and Kane, our serial killer, is utterly implausible. Not only is he a mimic so gifted that he can convincingly adopt another man's voice after only a few minutes' practice, but he is also super-fit, skilled in combat, has friends in the police force and is an expert in theatrical makeup and prosthetics which are sufficiently convincing for people not to notice his makeup jobs when they're sitting right beside him for hours at a time. He also has a condition that makes him impervious to physical pain, which is a leap too far in terms of convenience. Plus he's inconsistent - we're told that he's motivated by the pleasure of killing and not by hatred of his victims, and yet several of his murders are driven by a thirst for revenge on people who have wronged him. Overall, he's an absurd cross between Hannibal Lecter and Patrick Bateman and I simply didn't believe in him for a moment.

Eddie Flynn is also a walking cliché - shady past, useful connections, failed marriage due to pressures of his dangerous work, drink problem. His narration is full of lines like "But I’m a defense attorney. I got the devil on my side. And he doesn’t play fair" which I just found laughable. I get the impression the author is aiming for a noirish feel but everything is just taken too far, to the point where I felt as if I was reading a parody. Apparently this is one of a series featuring Eddie Flynn, so perhaps if I'd read the previous books I might have found the character a bit more well-rounded, but in isolation this book presents him as an identikit American crime fiction stereotype.

We're also expected to believe that a security-obsessed law firm would give Eddie a laptop full of confidential case files with a password that a) is written on a piece of paper and b) is 'NotGuilty1', that said security-obsessed law form could also easily be bugged and never sweeps its offices for listening devices, that Eddie can tell if his clients are guilty or not just by a certain look they have... I could go on.

I can see that this book has numerous glowing reviews from several acclaimed crime and thriller writers, so obviously they must have seen something in Thirteen that I didn't, but this one definitely wasn't for me. I think perhaps that, although I read a lot of crime fiction, I just don't really get on with this particular sub-genre: it's a bit reminiscent of writers like Harlan Coben, David Baldacci and Linwood Barclay, so if you're a fan of that particular type of American thriller, you might like this more than I did.