Reckless Disregard by Robert Rotstein
This book sets me thinking about what ingredients must be mixed together to make a good legal thriller. Let’s start off with the obvious. At some point before, during or after the book starts, X must break the law and require the services of a lawyer. We are then allowed the privilege of watching said lawyer from the moment of initial advice through to the trial at the end. Although the court room scenes are not mandatory, there must be a good reason for the case failing to come before a judge so said lawyer can demonstrate just why he or she is in such high demand as a trial lawyer. On the way to the legal and thrillerish denouement, our heroic legal manipulator must face dangers. Others in the entourage or potential witnesses are expendable but, of necessity, the legal eagle must fly unscathed in the physical sense (although it’s appropriate from there to be some running, hiding and the occasional blow struck — some lawyers even pick up the occasional bullet wound as a trophy).
Those of you with some legal knowledge will understand the theme of this book from the title. Reckless Disregard by Robert Rotstein (Seventh Street Books, 2014) is about defamation. In this instance, it’s alleged the latest video game from an anonymous underground designer libels a famous Hollywood movie producer. Under American law, it’s necessary to prove the publication of the images and words was malicious. That means the publisher must have shown reckless disregard for the truth, i.e. at least willful blindness. In theory this should be relatively straightforward given this game designer has alleged the movie producer kidnapped and killed an actress. Anyone looking in the historical record would find no mention of said producer ever having anything to do with the actress so here comes a man with one of these apparently unimpeachable reputations to sue an underground revolutionary who dares attack one of the titans of the movie industry. Needless to say, the only person standing between David and Goliath is our series hero, Parker Stern. To put it mildly, he’s not the strongest of performers having lost much of his trial mojo through increasingly severe anxiety attacks. However, this time he’s motivated to take the case because Lovely Diamond is the attorney of record on the other side.
Those of you who have read the first book will know our hero and Lovely ended up an item. In the intervening period, she has broken off the relationship leaving our man somewhat puzzled and deflated. This is not so much a chance for revenge but an opportunity for them to interact again, even if only from opposite sides of the courtroom. He’s not sure what, if anything, will follow on from this, but he feels he has to try. So this part of the book is a great success. Having adopted the cliché of pairing them off, our author now has them as wounded warriors. Since both have their secrets, it’s interesting to watch how they slowly grow more comfortable with each other again. The plot is also very cleverly put together with some nice twists and turns when we get into court. The unravelling of the core mystery about what might or might not have happened to the missing actress is engrossing.
The only problem I have is with the game itself. A not inconsiderable amount of time is devoted to describing the different levels and showing how the game apparently tracks the real world events. I’m not a game-player so I can’t speak for the credibility of this as a real-world game. So I accept such a game might have a cult following and confirm it as an ingenious way to set the hare running to see which dogs try to chase it down. But I have a problem with the later explanation for the game showing one of the murder scenarios, apparently before the murder(s) occur(s) or is/are discovered. The game designer or other(s) helping him/her must have had a good idea how this element was introduced into the game. Yet the designer’s failure to resolve this issue becomes the second reckless disregard. The first is publishing the game knowing there’s no positive evidence to prove the kidnapping/murder ever took place. The best state of the evidence is as a basis for undermining the reputation of the movie mogul. The second is either the designer becoming a murderer or concealing the identity of the murderer.
So we’re left in a very interesting state. Through one of the quirks of examination and cross-examination in trial, Parker Stern’s secret is revealed. Perhaps this will help restore his trial mojo. The relationship with Lovely may be repairable despite the presence of the game-playing son. And a version of justice is achieved so far as all the public and the police are concerned. Putting this together, Reckless Disregard is a very good legal thriller, doing clever things to mix all the ingredients in a relatively new way. But it’s not as good as the first in the series. This is slightly more contrived.
For a review of the first in the series, see Corrupt Practices.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.