The Tenth Case (review and author interview)
The Tenth Case
Mira Books October 2008
Criminal defense attorney, Harrison J. Walker, known to friends and colleagues as “Jaywalker,” has a reputation as unconventional and carefree as his nickname. But his tireless work, in and out of the courtroom, wins cases. Over 90 percent of them, in fact, a figure unheard-of in criminal defense. He’s proud of that success rate, proud of his hard work, his sometimes-unorthodox methods, and proud of the gratitude his clients have given.
When he’s caught receiving “gratitude” from a lovely female client in a courtroom stairwell, his license is suspended, and he’s ordered to finish ten cases he has pending. Tying up loose ends, he’s left with one last case between him and suspension.
Young, beautiful Samara Tannenbaum stabbed her elderly, wealthy husband through the heart with a steak knife. All the condemning evidence points her out as a grave-digger whose case can’t be won. Winning will be a huge test of Jaywalker’s skills. His last test. His tenth case.
Unfolding the complexities of evidence, testimony, procedure, and belief, “The Tenth Case” makes for a fascinating view of the legal process, more than some faster-paced legal thrillers will allow. Also woven throughout the novel is the evolution of a complex, deepening relationship between Jaywalker and Samara.
I interviewed Joseph Teller via e-mail.
I understand this is the first book in the Joseph Teller series, and that before becoming a writer, you have worked as a criminal defense attorney, and undercover for the Federal Bureau of Narcotics… How did you make the decision to write full time?
I’m an old English major who’s always been a writer at heart. After defending criminals in New York City for over 30 years, I’d pretty much figured out how to do it, and like the Jaywalker character of my books I was winning almost every case I tried. But it was absolutely killing me. So I began writing as a way to “run from the law.” It allowed my wife and me to move upstate, out of the city. These days I wake up to the sounds of birds instead of car alarms and garbage trucks. And instead of obsessing over trials, I obsess over writing.
How long have you had the “Jaywalker” character in mind, and been working on this novel?
Since Jaywalker is basically an exaggeration of me, I guess I’ve had him in mind forever, or at least since I’ve been trying cases. It took me about six months to write the book from start to finish. I try to make those six months the winter, when we get pretty much driven indoors up here.
Can you tell me a story about what you did when you were undercover with the Federal Bureau of narcotics, what your cover identity was? (Or is that classified?)
I was just out of law school when I went to work as a federal agent, and I looked about sixteen, too young to be a cop. So they tapped me to do some undercover work. That meant winning the confidence of some pretty serious mid- and upper-level heroin dealers. It turned out I was good at it, because it involved the same skill as writing fiction does: being able to make up convincing stories. I got so good at it, in fact, that on one occasion a group of young Mafia wannabes, convinced I was one of them and wouldn’t go to the police, held me up at gunpoint and stole the government’s money from me. We got them the next day, but it was pretty exciting there for a while.
How did you decide to make Samara’s case the Tenth Case, the one Jaywalker would end on, before he would be suspended?
It was actually a backup idea for one I mentioned to my wife and she absolutely hated. That said, I wanted it to be a murder case, since they’re the most compelling. And since Jaywalker’s widowed, why not give him a beautiful young (and newly single) woman to defend?
What book have you read more times than any other?
I’ve rarely read a book more than once. There are too many others out there. But I have watched the movie “Animal House” about a thousand times.
What author’s work do you admire, or even envy, the most?
Right now I’m a big Richard Russo fan (Empire Falls, Bridge of Sighs).
He knocks me over about every five pages or so. I like contemporary, literate story tellers–Russell Banks, the early John Irving and Pat Conroy, and just about anyone whose first name is Ann: Lamott and Beatty come to mind, also Anne Tyler.
What question do you wish interviewers would ask you?
Just about anything but “How can you represent someone you know is guilty?” That, it turns out, is the ideal client. Less pressure on me, and no conflict: even the guiltiest defendant deserves somebody in his corner. For me, the stuff of nightmares was representing someone I knew to be absolutely innocent. That’s what the next Jaywalker book, Bronx Justice, will be about, in fact.