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Book Talk: Steve Cavanagh, ‘The Defense’

Wow! If you could squish a courtroom drama written by John Grisham or Scott Turow and a thriller by David Baldacci or Sandra Brown together, you get Steve Cavanagh’s “The Defense” (2015, 381 pages in paperback). “The Defense” is Cavanagh’s debut novel, and it’s a blockbuster. Publishers Weekly’s starred review states, “Everything a reader could ask for in a thriller — a nail-biting suspense, a Russian nesting doll of a plot, and an original and compelling lead.”

Cavanagh’s protagonist is a con-artist and hustler turned lawyer, but there doesn’t seem to be much difference in the professions, at least as far as Eddie Flynn is concerned. And in this story, both his early background as a grifter and his current talents as an attorney are needed to deal with a tense situation that gets more nerve-wracking as the plot develops.

The story opens with Eddie being kidnapped by the Russian mob, headed by the most unsavory of characters who have already kidnapped his 10-year-old daughter Amy. Not only is Eddie in the hands of the head of the Russian mafia, he’s also forced to wear an exploding jacket, defend the mob boss against a murder rap, and smuggle the jacket into the courthouse so that it can be placed under the witness chair where it will be detonated to kill a mob member who is scheduled to testify for the prosecution. Oh, and if he doesn’t do exactly as he’s told, his daughter Amy will be killed. As Russian mafia boss Volchek tells Eddie, “It just takes a phone call.”

Eddie’s major concern, of course, is protecting his daughter from the Russian monsters. But his every attempt to secure her safety is met with some sort of stumbling block. However, he has two aces in the hole. One is his boyhood friend who is now head of the local Italian Mafia, and the other is an esteemed judge and his best friend, Harry Ford.

Volcheck, who has never had reason to question the devotion of his men, isn’t aware that Witness X isn’t the only member of the mob who has plans for the Bratva (brotherhood). And, as if this three-way pressure on Eddie isn’t enough, the FBI has him in its crosshairs as a terrorist.

Aside from the tense drama and action, a major highlight of the book is Eddie’s manipulation of the court, the prosecution, witnesses, and his abductors. Our protagonist is in unflagging panic mode, yet he manages to out-maneuver whoever stands between him and his goal. But time is a constant enemy. The mob and the court each has its own schedule, and so does his daughter’s life.

This is a tightly-written book with a great plot, interesting characters, and a twist at every turn. It’s one of those unbelievable tales that the author somehow makes us believe. It’s also one of those books that make it easy to root for the good guy without ambiguity. Cavanagh’s second book is The Plea, and I’ve got it on order.


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Jim Glynn may be contacted at



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