Of Prose, Professionals, and Politics
You don’t spend twenty-five years as a Los Angeles trial lawyer without rubbing up against a few memorable characters. Some, in my case, were household names—Richard Pryor, for example, whom I represented for over a decade—but most you’ve never heard of and, in many cases, you should be grateful you haven’t.
Political controversies weren’t a focus of my practice, but I did handle a few. I also spent ten years as the campaign treasurer for a friend who was, and still is, an LA-area city councilman, and from that ringside vantage witnessed some bruising electoral slugfests. Those experiences, plus a masochist’s interest in politics as a spectator sport, all combined to inform Green-Eyed Lady (Minotaur, 2013), the second installment in my Jack MacTaggart series of legal mysteries.
There’s a wonderful line, often attributed to former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards, to the effect that the only way a front-running candidate can lose an election is if he’s “caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy.” So when I made the decision to write a quasi-political thriller, I took that adage to heart, and it became, in effect, the jumping-off point for a story that I hoped would take readers from the smoke-filled back rooms to the klieg-lit courtrooms of a national political scandal.
The Jack MacTaggart novels, beginning with 2012’s Hush Money, are rollicking, first-person romps in which half the fun, or so I’m told, lies in rattling around inside the head of my irreverent protagonist. But I wanted to try something different for Green-Eyed Lady, and so I began the novel with a noirish third-person prologue designed to stand alone as a short story.
The basic setup is this: Warren Burkett, the former mayor of Los Angeles, is a Clintonesque character known for his outsized charm and appetites, particularly where the fairer sex is concerned. Three weeks before Election Day, Burkett is coasting to a US Senate victory, riding a ten-point lead in the polls. Then one night, as he’s leaving a fundraising dinner in Hollywood, Burkett comes to the aid of a lovely green-eyed stranger who’s just lost her purse to a mugger.
Burkett offers the woman a ride. When they arrive at her hillside mansion, he helps her break in. Above the mantle in her living room hangs a priceless impressionist painting, which they both pause to admire before events take their inevitable course and Burkett finds himself alone in an upstairs bedroom, awaiting his grateful new playmate’s return from the bathroom.
In his ardor, however, the candidate has overlooked a few clues, including the fact that when she exited the bedroom, his hostess did so via the hallway door:
“The next clue, however, could not be missed—even by a naked man in a strange bed whose imagination was not, he was mortified to recall, the only aspect of his arousal—coming as it did in the form of two LAPD officers bursting through the bedroom door with weapons drawn.”
The woman? His car? The priceless painting? All vanished, along with his lead in the polls when the story of his arrest—in what was actually the home of a vacationing doctor—hits the morning news.
Enter Jack MacTaggart, our intrepid hero. Jack is hired to defend Burkett, a Democrat, against the prosecutorial zeal of a Republican district attorney clamped to the suckling teat of Larry Archer, Burkett’s billionaire opponent. Moreover, Jack and the DA have a courtroom history that leaves both men salivating at the prospect of a rematch. And when the body of the green-eyed lady is found under a bridge a few days after her fateful encounter with Burkett, well, therein lies a mystery just begging to be solved.
A dead girl or a live boy.
If conflict is the engine of drama, then the roiling confluence of law and politics, lust and avarice portends high drama indeed. But does Green-Eyed Lady deliver? Kelli Stanley, who read the novel in manuscript, describes it as “a legal thriller with the delicious intricacy of a well-plotted mystery,” while Douglas Preston calls it “the wickedest read of the year.”
I’ll settle for those votes any day.
There’s another quotation that appears in the book; this from Ronald Reagan, who once said, “Politics is supposed to be the second-oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.”
In the case of Green-Eyed Lady, readers will have no choice but to agree.
Chuck Greaves’ debut novel Hush Money (Minotaur, 2012) won the Southwest Writers’ International Writing Contest and was named a finalist for several national honors including the Rocky Award from Left-Coast Crime and the Audie Award for Best Mystery Audiobook of 2012. He also publishes literary fiction as C. Joseph Greaves. You can visit him at www.chuckgreaves.com