Books by J.F. Freedman

BIRD’S-EYE VIEW by J.F. Freedman
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: Aug. 7, 2001

"Steadily gripping but less than exciting. "
Character-driven suspense with a subtheme of ornithology, not as deep a bowl of nastiness as Freedman's best or his most recent (Above the Law, 2000). Read full book review >
THE DISAPPEARANCE by J.F. Freedman
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: Oct. 1, 1998

Routine by-the-numbers legal procedural by one of the better craftsmen of the genre. Freedman (Key Witness, 1997, etc.) applies his formula—burned-out legal eagle takes a case that no one else wants—to the luxurious California suburb of Montecito, where bubbly 14-year-old Emma Lancaster is snatched out of her bedroom by a mysterious intruder. Her father, Doug, the somewhat boorish owner of local television stations, and her slightly ditsy society mom, Glenna, are horrified—especially when Emma's rotting corpse appears in a nearby stream. The cops are mystified until the dead girl's key chain turns up in the backseat of a Porsche belonging to Joe Allison, a womanizing local newscaster who works at one of Doug's TV stations. Only circumstantial evidence ties Allison to the crime, until the girl's friends reveal that Emma was pregnant when murdered and that Allison is the likely father. With everyone in southern California screaming for Allison's head, Luke Garrison, a former crusading Santa Barbara district attorney who lost his career to the guilt he suffered after he got an innocent man executed, reluctantly agrees to defend Allison. Garrison, with the help of Riva Montoya, his spunky girlfriend (and former drug-dealer's moll), comes to believe that Allison just might have been framed, especially when the ex-D.A. himself begins receiving mysterious death threats. It's no surprise when Garrison rallies and successfully acquits his client. Freedman's contrived plotting, so easily forgiven in his better books, seems trite here, as the villain conveniently unhinges, stalking Garrison with a high-powered rifle, and leaving pistol-packing Riva the chance to save the day. Still, despite a jocular, clichÇd narrative in which "news . . . spreads like wildfire," and more than one character "goes ballistic,— Freedman on an average day is usually better than most. (Literary Guild/Mystery Guild selection) Read full book review >
KEY WITNESS by J.F. Freedman
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: Aug. 4, 1997

Superior, improbable, but gripping postO.J. legal procedural that fearlessly plays well-worn race, sex, and psychokiller cards, and still wins the game. Wyatt Matthews, a middle-aged seven-figure-salaried rainmaker lawyer, is burned out from too much easy money. In an attempt to recapture the illusion of integrity that once seemed so necessary, he signs up for six months of pro bono labor in the Public Defender's Office, where he gets a stack of color-coded felony files and advice to plea-bargain as many of his charges as possible. When one of them, an incompetent holdup homeboy named Marvin White, is connected to a series of sickening rape-slasher killings, Matthews finds his crusade and decides to defend White with all the tricks of the trade. It isn't going to be easy: White is an 18-year-old semiliterate black male, and the state has what would appear to be incontrovertible lab evidence showing his guilt. Freedman (House of Smoke, 1996, etc.) piles it on a little thick with some of the villains—one has a reproduction of the Sistine Chapel's ceiling tattooed on his back, with the Devil sticking his finger out to Adam—but he invests the other familiar summer-stock players with charming eccentricities and puts them in extravagantly over-the-top settings. Despite a manipulatory plot that demands one too many contrivances to keep the suspense churning, Freedman delivers a powerfully absorbing tale of justice gone almost, but not quite, out of control. What we imagine to be a rigid, hidebound legal system is, it seems, a clash of personalities in which, every once in a while, the good guys win. An intensely accomplished, smoothly written, character-driven page-turner that, for all its flaws, manages to push the right buttons while sustaining a high level of suspense and interest. (Literary Guild/Mystery Guild selection) Read full book review >
HOUSE OF SMOKE by J.F. Freedman
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Jan. 1, 1996

A gritty and gripping sins-of-the-fathers tale from Freedman (Against the Wind, 1991, etc.), who this time puts a couple of memorably gutsy ladies center stage. Having resigned from the Oakland PD after being involved in a hostage crisis that left three people dead, Kate Blanchard divorces her brutally abusive husband (a fellow cop) and moves to Santa Barbara in search of a fresh start. With wise counsel from a retired investigator whose practice she takes over, the 40ish Kate sets up shop as a p.i. Retained by wealthy young Laura Sparks to probe the apparent suicide of Frank Bascombe, who died in the local jail while awaiting arraignment on drug charges, the fledgling sleuth soon learns she may be out of her depth. In addition to being Laura's lover, Bascombe was foreman at the vast ranch owned by the Sparks family, and the old-money clan wants to put a quick lid on his death for fear it could sully their good name. Particularly keen on keeping Kate at bay is Miranda Sparks, Laura's mother. A calculating sexual predator who takes her pleasures where she finds them (thanks to the impotence of a beloved but feckless husband), Miranda has been entrusted by matriarch Dorothy with the stewardship of the family's presumably substantial holdings. But undaunted by pointed warnings and a severe beating, Kate keeps digging. She finally discovers that Miranda is, literally, in bed with the representative of an international oil company that wants to slant-drill into the scenic channel—anathema in environmentally correct Santa Barbara. Kate also identifies other players with sinister agendas of their own. The case she would not drop eventually resolves itself in a shocking, violent, and cathartic climax. Plucky Kate and lusty Miranda are irresistible creations in their absorbing if occasionally melodramatic duel, set in an agreeably complex coastal eden: an immensely entertaining read. (Literary Guild featured alternate) Read full book review >
THE OBSTACLE COURSE by J.F. Freedman
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Jan. 1, 1994

Episodic coming-of-age tale from Freedman, here showing little of the flair for high melodrama that marked his robust literary debut, Against the Wind (1991). The title refers not only to the obstacle course at the Naval Academy at Annapolis that narrator Ray Poole, 15, likes to sneak onto during the winter of 1957, but also to the barricades to happiness that he must leap on his way to manhood—starting with his family (womanizing dad; abused mom) and their barren life in the white-trash town of Ravensburg, Maryland. Like his friends, Ray is tough, quick with his fists, and not adverse to stealing to support his passion: the building of elaborate ship models, his way of sustaining his dream of going to Annapolis. The dream begins to look possible when, at a hobby store, Ray meets a retired admiral who shares his love of models. The admiral takes the bright if wayward boy under his wing, introduces him to Navy brass (and a lovelorn Navy brat), then gets him into a military prep school. But life deals a hard lesson about human nature and class realities when, after the theft of a figurine at the admiral's house, the admiral spurns the accused Ray rather than name the real thief, a kleptomaniac old friend; and the lesson is fortified as Ray is twice treated well by the generally despised blacks—first by a whore to whom he loses his virginity, then by a church congregation that takes him in after the boy, despairing, has ridden the rails into the Deep South. At story's end, Ray—battered but wiser—is back running the Annapolis obstacle course, his future a mystery ready to unfold. Ray's an appealingly spunky creation, but his adventures feel contrived—as if he's not living a life but being hustled through his paces toward Meaning by Coach Freedman. (First printing of 35,000) Read full book review >
AGAINST THE WIND by J.F. Freedman
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: Sept. 1, 1991

A powerhouse legal/action thriller—about an alcoholic lawyer defending outlaw bikers charged with murder-one—that roundly reflects the story-telling skills and commercial instincts that first-novelist Freedman evidently developed as director-writer of film and TV melodramas (Kansas City Bomber, Borderline, Night Gallery, etc.). Hero Will Alexander's wry, humane, energetic narration (intercut by action-oriented third-person passages) immediately earns our sympathy for this appealingly flawed 40-year-old: Santa Fe's top defense attorney, twice-divorced father of ten-year-old Claudia, whom he adores, high-strung Will is canned for excess drinking and womanizing by the law firm he founded—and then is told by Claudia's mom that she's moving to Seattle with Claudia. Hard knocks: but cushioned by a headline case that falls into Will's lap, the defense of down-and-dirty biker Lone Wolf and his three comrades, accused of the mutilation-murder of a local drug-dealer—and convicted by the press before trial. Hinging on some weird forensic evidence and on testimony of a whore the bikers raped, the likely outcome of the trial seesaws as the prosecution and Will—sated with self-doubt, drinking, and wenching—razzle-dazzle the jury; but the inevitable verdict comes in: guilty. Months later, however, the whore recants: her testimony was perjured, she claims, extorted by the police. Will, who's meanwhile been caring for Claudia and pursuing a hot affair, turns back to the case—only to see Lone Wolf swept up in a violent prison riot that Will is asked to mediate. And matters become complicated further when a stranger confesses to the crime, calling Will to West Virginia to meet him at a rousing snake-handling religious revival. But it all winds up back in the courtroom—and in a slam-bang ending. Will's incessant self-absorption begins to grate near the end, but, long before, the narrative's storm surge of courtroom duels, gritty crime action, twisty plotting, and technicolor characters has irrevocably swept the reader up in one of the most extravagantly entertaining thrillers of the year. Read full book review >