January 5, 2015

Guilty as Sin: a review of Lawrence Block's "Defender of the Innocent"

Defender of the Innocent
by Lawrence Block
narrated by Don Sobczak
Audible version (2014)
Available via Amazon.com

Martin H. Ehrengraf is a smooth motherf**ker. Cunning, too. Devious might be a better word. He's a lawyer after all. If you're in a real jam, he's the man you call. Martin's trick is that he hates going to court. He'd much rather get everything settled before he has to set foot in the halls of justice to defend his client. He's got a flawless record, though. And that comes at a fairly high price.

There are twelve stories in all, eleven of which previously appeared in the pages of Ellery Queen Mystery Magaine. From what little I've read of that mag, it highlights the more clever mysteries as opposed to the more hard-boiled, hard-bitten tales, and this bunch certainly falls into the realm of clever. There is, by virtue of the rather ominous deals struck between Ehrengraf and his clients, that I suspect stood out from the usual fare of that mag.

For many of his clients, it appears on the surface that he hasn't done much lawyering at all to ensure their exoneration. Extenuating circumstances and simple strokes of luck seem to be the order of the day, and that gives some pause in honoring the steep payments demanded of them. And there's one thing you do not do with Ehrengraf and that is renege on an agreement.

Don Sobczak's voice work for the audiobook is really good in capturing that casually sophisticated tone of Ehrengraf that holds an undercurrent of menace. It's just a hint really when he gives his subtle warnings to his clients about the costs of his services and the resoluteness of his approach to keeping them "innocent."

The stories may come off a bit repetitive when digested in one swoop, but bear in mind these were published weeks or months apart originally, and the setting is always the same, so there are some limits to how the story can progress and how multiple stories can be received all at once. But Block fans shouldn't be too troubled by that, and should find that same wry passion for crime fiction, as always.

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