by John McNellis
Genre: Mystery, Thriller & Suspense / Romantic
Print Length: 316 pages
Reviewed by Joelene Pynnonen
A gripping legal thriller that captures the essence of 70s San Francisco
San Francisco, 1979. After escaping a rough childhood in Boston, Michael (Flipper) O’Brien feels like he’s moving up in the world. He’s landed a job at a prestigious law firm, has a swathe of gorgeous women vying for his attention, and spends long afternoons in the pub or on the court.
Little does he know that law can be as cut-throat as the streets he grew up on. Buckley, the most ruthless lawyer in the firm, has had it out for Flipper since he arrived. Now with a disgruntled client to please, Buckley can see a way to rid himself of two problems at once. By offloading the case to Flipper in return for the client, Malcolm Knox’s, promise not to pursue legal action against the firm.
All the partners know that the case is a losing prospect in the hands of a seasoned associate, let alone with Flipper, the firm’s newest member. No one counts on Flipper’s stubborn determination in the face of insurmountable odds.
For Flipper, it turns out that tracking down the $50 million in bearer bonds that went missing when Knox’s uncle died is the least of his worries. The nearer he gets to the truth, the more he realizes that he may be risking it all. His job, his girlfriend, even possibly, his life.
O’Brien’s Law is a romantic thriller, with emphasis on the romantic. While there’s a lot of juggling between Flipper’s associate career and his budding relationship with Marybeth at the start, as the story progresses, the romance stays the course more than the job.
O’Brien’s Law encapsulates the crux of 1970s San Francisco. The laidback attitude to work, the comparative simplicity of relationships, and, most importantly, the hair. While the setting and time period feel authentic, it never feels like the author is cramming his research into the novel. The atmosphere stays where it’s meant to be: the background. Still, there are little nods to the place and time that readers will appreciate. Certain landmarks, comments on the terrain. One that stood out to me was the very subtle acknowledgement of San Francisco’s place in the early LGB movement.
There aren’t a lot of frills to McNellis’s writing. It’s simple and to the point, but there’s something about how he writes that evokes so much. A clipped but exact set-up of a café can carry the whole scene. Emotions are filtered through character’s dialogue and action more than their internal monologue, but there is a wealth of information in the things not being said. O’Brien’s Law is a perfect example of functional writing. While uncomplicated, it paints the scene so vividly that a lot of this novel reminded me of a movie.
The major drawback to this novel is that it feels like parts of a whole. The romance doesn’t gel with the legal thriller and the beginning doesn’t gel with the end. What starts as a realistic legal thriller morphs into an action-adventure about halfway through. Similarly, the start feels like reading two books, one a cut-throat business novel, the other a meet-cute romance. Each of these parts are well-written and work for individual genres. Combined, however, it can feel a bit like oil and water.
There are a lot of moving parts in O’Brien’s Law. The romance, the time period, and the legal aspects are all pretty fantastic. It’s a quick, entertaining read that will hold attention throughout. The author clearly understands the intricacies of the legal world and has done great research into the setting to more than carry the novel.
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