Books by William J. Coughlin

Released: Nov. 11, 2002

"'Real life ain't an Agatha Christie novel,' Miles sagely tells Charley after the final bell. And this case, which saves all its surprises and reversals for the very last minute, is more like a well-known Christie short story, first published in, say, 1949."
Legal eagle Coughlin (The Judgment, 1997, etc.) has been dead nearly ten years, but his best-loved creation, alcoholic defense attorney Charley Sloan, lives on courtesy of Sorrells (Power of Attorney, not reviewed, etc.) in this undernourished courtroom drama. Read full book review >
THE JUDGMENT by William J. Coughlin
Released: Sept. 25, 1997

Satisfying, if meandering, Detroit-area legal procedural continues the adventures of Charley Sloan, in a second posthumous thriller from Coughlin (Heart of Justice, 1995). If Coughlin, a former Detroit defense lawyer and judge who died on the cusp of fame in 1993, becomes the V.C. Andrews of lawyer novels, the genre would only benefit from more tales about Sloan, a thrice-married, worldly-wise, recovering alcoholic who, as he ages, takes time to indulge his conscience, do the right thing- -and occasionally get paid for it. This time, Sloan is stretched between the demands of a high-profile police corruption case involving $1 million stolen from the police informants' fund and the hunt for a serial murderer (of children) whose depredations put a severe emotional stress on Sloan's relationship with his girlfriend, Sex Crimes Detective Sue Gillis. Both plot threads suffer from gratuitous sensationalism: It's almost a given that the corruption scandal will threaten to drag down Detroit's mayor, and the serial murderer's identity is telegraphed from the start. Also, a few too many characters scramble about a landscape stretching from Detroit's dark inner city to the slush-filled exurbs where Coughlin attends AA meetings. But Sloan's dignified exploration of big-city politics and small-town evil, as well as his troubled management of the minutiae of his profession, leads to an unexpected insight: that depravity springs, more often than not, from distortions of human kindness. When not poking these burdensome plots forward, Coughlin skillfully portrays his good guys, such as saintly Father Chuck, and bad guys, including the soulless Deputy Police Chief Mark, as tragic effigies cut from the same broad, colorful cloth. Even when they're discomfiting, Coughlin's minor characters shine with a ruddy glow. Overplotted, with finely wrought characterizations and a practiced novelist's respect for the way in which unanticipated tragedy can bring on moments of quiet insight. Read full book review >
THE HEART OF JUSTICE by William J. Coughlin
Released: Feb. 4, 1995

A legal slugfest over control of a Microsoftish firm puts the heat on all interested parties, including the presiding judge and his bride. Jordan Crandell, sharklike head of Summit, Inc., wants to reach across America to buy nerdy Eric Lynch's Cinderella corporation Starware, Inc. So does Crandell's equally ruthless competitor Lew Valentine. Crandell nails down the first meeting with Lynch and the first offer; Valentine counterattacks by offering more money and insinuating that Crandell's financing is shaky. When Lynch, who's harbored a grudge against Valentine for 20 years, accepts Crandell's tender offer, Valentine's hired gun, Bernard Odette, a takeover expert dubbed the Michigan Assassin, sues Summit and Starware, filing an injunction to halt the offer. Although Paul Murray, a rookie federal judge hungry for experience and publicity, is delighted when he's assigned to hear the case, he'd be sleeping a lot less soundly if he knew that (1) Crandell secretly put him forward for the federal bench as a wedding present to his wealthy society wife, Hope; (2) Crandell's now hired a private eye to dig up any dirt that could be used to blackmail Murray; and (3) half a billion of the dollars Crandell's put up for Starware have been sneaked out of Hope Murray's trust fund by her impecunious uncle. So Murray has every reason to rule in Crandell's favor. Wonder what will happen if he doesn't? Unlike most of Coughlin's crudely effective courtroom thrillers (In the Presence of Enemies, 1993, etc.), this posthumous novel offers little in the way of courtrooms or thrills; it's a soapy saga in which you end up rooting for the judge but wish all the charmless litigants would lose. (First printing of 125,000; $125,000 ad/promo) Read full book review >
Released: March 25, 1993

A precariously placed Detroit lawyer with no trial experience finds himself thrust into the courtroom defense of a billionaire client's will. When Jake Martin videotaped banker Augustus Daren's latest will, it seemed a routine precaution; despite a stroke, the old man was clearly in full possession of his faculties when he decided to vest voting control of his controlling interest in giant Hanover Square Bank in his third wife, Elizabeth, instead of splitting the power with his two children as well. But now that foreign banks are sniffing around H.S.B. hoping for a merger or a buyout, whiny Chip and cautious Gussie, despite the millions they're sure to inherit, are trying to keep control of their shares—and the fabulous power they confer—by claiming their father was incompetent at that signing. Jake, who's up for a partnership in prestigious Sperling Beekman, is confident of victory only because he doesn't know that (1) Elizabeth's neighbors in upstate Eagle County, where he plans to enter the will for probate before a jury, would love to see her lose the case; (2) Chip's insider at H.S.B. has turned the two witnesses to the signing against Jake; (3) Chip's insider at Sperling Beekman has stolen both copies of the tape; and (4) the all-star litigator who's supposed to be trying the case for Sperling Beekman is about to pull out. As Jake struggles to hold his own in the often riotous courtroom scenes, his wife is suing for divorce, luscious Elizabeth is coming on to him, and Chip's suave veteran trial lawyer T.G. (Tiger) Sage is quietly turning the local newspapers against him. Guess how it all turns out. Less assured than Shadow of a Doubt (1991) and Death Penalty (1992); the ending comes too easily despite too many unresolved subplots. But Coughlin, who died early last year, keeps you burning the midnight oil up to the very end. Read full book review >
DEATH PENALTY by William J. Coughlin
Released: Oct. 7, 1992

Recovering alcoholic Charley Sloan (Shadow of a Doubt, 1991, etc.), lowest rung of the Detroit bar, juggles three juicy cases as he struggles to keep from falling off the wagon. Charley's just lost the first case—his defense of alleged euthanasiast Miles Stewart (``Doctor Death'')—but the presiding judge allowed so much inadmissible evidence that Charley's confident of winning the appeal. In the meantime, however, the charmless doctor keeps making trips out of town, one of which ends with an elderly, ailing corpse and a $200,000 contribution to his research foundation. After Charley ruthlessly presses for an out-of-court settlement to the second case—former prostitute Becky Harris's rape/assault suit against her sometime boyfriend, car salesman Howard Wordley—Becky decides to kiss and make up with Wordley, leaving Charley way out on a limb with the folks he's been intimidating. But it's the third case that's the killer. Arguing the appeal of a product liability suit—a mobile home mysteriously accelerated on its own, leaving driver Will McHugh hopelessly crippled, and seedy, conscientious attorney-of- record Mickey Monk on the verge of bankruptcy—Charley gets a series of deafening hints from sleazy former judge Jeffrey Mallow that the appeal will go in his client's favor if only he's willing to slip a substantial bribe to Judge William Palmer, the revered law-school mentor who had kept Charley from disbarment a few years back. Unwilling to finger Palmer (whose insistent daughter he's just started to date) and unable to back out of the case (Palmer and Mallow have threatened to discredit him if he doesn't come across), Charley's in a three-ring pickle. It's a pleasure watching the well-oiled machinery—politics, threats, and shameless legal maneuvering—that eventually brings Charley to a perfect three-point landing. Read full book review >
SHADOW OF A DOUBT by William J. Coughlin
Released: Aug. 16, 1991

A big, foursquare courtroom novel that poses the timeless riddle: Can recovering alcoholic lawyer Charley Sloan get his old lover Robin Harwell's beautiful, affectless stepdaughter Angel acquitted of killing her rich father before he gets disbarred because of demon rum or the judge's animus? Charley has his work cut out for him: the Pickeral Point (Mich.) police have the servants' testimony about Angel's threats to kill her father, Angel's fingerprints on the samurai sword used in the killing, and a videotape of her confession that she may have been responsible for his death. And Angel, with her long history of mental disturbances and her demure unresponsiveness, isn't the ideal client. Add the usual list of dragons—unreliable expert witnesses, an unsympathetic judge, a shoal of publicity hounds, the fiery baptism of national publicity, and several determined attempts by Harwell hangers-on to get Charley scratched from the case—and you can see why it's hard for Charley to enjoy the benefits to his foundering legal practice (which perks up overnight) and to his person (strong forward passes by both Robin and Angel). Detroit lawyer-judge Coughlin (Her Honor, 1987, etc.) keeps the tension up with crude but highly effective courtroom theatrics, and Charley follows the marks with a naive charm that suggests a close reading of The Verdict. Charley stays on the wagon, all right, but the clichÇs flow like bonded bourbon toward a conclusion that even your grandmother could see coming a million miles off. Read full book review >