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Book Talk: Cavanagh, 'Fifty-Fifty'

For a lawyer who does litigation, the greatest span of time is the one between the summations to the jury and the words, "They’re back.”

They, of course, are the members of the jury, and the news that they have returned to the courtroom means that they’ve reached a verdict. In real time, that could be several hours or several days, but to the lawyer it is eternity.

In Eddie Flynn’s latest case, it’s been only 48 minutes, and he feels that it wasn’t long enough because he’s involved with an extremely complex case. Two sisters are charged in a joint trial with the grisly murder of their father, and Eddie is defending only one of them.

Both sisters, Eddie’s client Sophia and first-time litigator Kate Brooks’ client Alexandra, made 9-1-1 phone calls, both were covered in blood when the cops arrived at their home, and one of them stands to inherit $49 million if her sister is found guilty and she’s acquitted.

Some of the story is told from Eddie’s POV, some by the author as narrator, and some by “She,” the killer. Together, they keep the reader on the edge of the chair in Steve Cavanagh’s “Fifty-Fifty” (2020, 349 pages in paperback format). To kick the meter up a bit, the girls’ father was the former mayor of New York, Frank Avellino, who seemed to have periods of borderline senility and who had contacted his attorney in order to make a change in his will. Naturally, Eddie reasons that this is the motive for murder, but Frank’s lawyer has disappeared, and there’s no evidence regarding the changes that were either intended or actually made.

District Attorney Wesley Dreyer holds all the cards, and Judge Stone, a member of a white supremacy group, has to be bullied by Eddie and his pal, retired Judge Harry Ford, into treating them without prejudice. Then, just to complicate things further, Eddie firmly believes that Sophia is innocent, and Kate is equally convinced that Alexandra didn’t kill her father. In addition, Kate is facing not only her baptism by fire, she’s also facing a possible multimillion-dollar lawsuit, filed by the high-powered law firm that treated her like a go-fer and submitted her to sexual harassment. So, she “stole” their biggest client, Alexandra, and went into private practice.

I love Cavanagh’s books because they always put the protagonist in impossible situations, and the authors intimate knowledge of the law is Eddie’s only weapon. Imagining him tearing prosecution witnesses apart during cross-examination is like watching a painting masterpiece while the wet paint is being applied.

After reviewing the more than 60 books that I wrote about during my first year of this column, I picked Cavanagh as the winner from among about a dozen well-written and engrossing novels. My hope is that he acquires a meticulous line editor who will correct punctuation, the few grammar faults, and — above all — the British terms, like “torch” for “flashlight.” These, however, seldom detract from the persistent tension of truly magnificent thrillers.


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Jim Glynn may be contacted at



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