Kennedy for the Defense (1980) introduced Jerry K., Boston's classiest sleazy criminal lawyer, in an amusing,...



Kennedy for the Defense (1980) introduced Jerry K., Boston's classiest sleazy criminal lawyer, in an amusing, half-satisfying grab-bag of tawdry cases. Here, notwithstanding flashes of mordant Higgins-style humor, the tone is more somber, the entertainment more fitful--as Jerry's narration slowly takes him through a downward spiral of legal/political/personal woes. The central misery for semi-sympathetic Jerry is his failure to keep his old pal, accountant Lou Schwartz, from going to jail for a technical violation of the rules for tax-preparers. (The D.A. actually brought the case in order to force Lou to squeal about some mob-connected dealings--which Lou has steadfastly refused to do.) Furthermore, longtime client Teddy Franklin--that brazen, never-jailed Cadillac thief--now seems destined for prison. . . after punching a cop in the face. So it seems as if maybe Jerry has lost his touch: ""You're starting to act scared,"" says no-nonsense wife Mack--who, along with daughter Heather, is getting fed up with ""all the crap"" that Jerry dishes out. And then the roof really falls in: Jerry, cruelly misled by his old, ill mentor Frank Macdonald (now in Florida), winds up being the only active Boston lawyer to sign a petition opposing the promotion of incompetent Judge Luther Dawes; the media turn the ensuing crunch into an overblown exposÉ; and, thanks to Dawes' influence, Jerry soon finds himself being audited by the IRS. . . just as he discovers that loyal secretary Gretchen has been skipping the Employer's Unemployment Compensation tax payments. As usual, Higgins expands a low-key scenario with great chunks of bravura monologue and dialogue: Jerry's conversations (more like rival laments) with pal Coop; Lou Schwartz's ruminations on ethics in the shady-deal world; rich courtroom speeches, eloquent marital skirmishes, Teddy Franklin's circuitous confidences. This time, however, Kennedy's mid-life ennui seems to carry over into the writing of the novel itself--as fragments of plot and conflict flare, then dim, eventually petering out entirely at the limp conclusion. So, despite fine bits of dialogue and detail, along with a few grand snippets of media satire (Jerry's slimiest crook-client becomes a TV-talk-show regular), this is lesser Higgins--without the energy needed to sustain the talk-heavy format and certainly less readable than Stephen Greenleaf's livelier, more sentimental lawyer-diary, The Ditto List (above).

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1984


Page Count: -

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1984