Note: This review is by my husband Jim.
The beginning of Kenneth Eichner’s D. A. Diaries grabs the reader with its snappy dialog, and a lively pace is maintained throughout the book. This is a pretty engaging read, especially coming from a first-time author.
One quality that stands out through the entire novel is its authenticity with respect to legal matters. The writer is a former prosecutor and defense attorney, and he really knows his way around a courthouse. He captures the frenetic pace – punctuated by periods of boredom – of pretrial procedure. In particular, his court clerks, bailiffs, and other support staff are well-drawn. His judges remind me of the ones I encountered in my short stint as a litigator in Chicago. And based on what I heard during my police car ride-alongs in Washington, D.C. with my sister-in-law (a lieutenant in the D.C. Police Force), Eichner’s ear for the speech patterns of the criminal class and local cops rings true.
The protagonist, Clay Franklin, is a witty and competent lawyer in Washington, D.C. The other male characters are clever and often hilarious. The female characters, however, are just too perfect. Clay’s female partner is tall, beautiful (with “cerulean eyes”), and a law review editor from a top school. The love of his life is a former law student turned artist, also incredibly beautiful. The other women Clay either encounters, seduces, or is seduced by, are also stunning. The protagonist seems to have no trouble gaining the affection of any of the beautiful women he pursues.
The crime portion of the plot revolves around the murder trial of a beloved teacher. The prime suspect is one of the teacher’s students, who happens to be the son of a disreputable policeman. The resolution is not particularly surprising.
The trite romantic sub-plot is less satisfying than the rest. It sounds a bit too much like it came out of someone’s fantasies rather than real life. There is not much nuance in it, and the outcome is implausible, given the characterizations preceding it.
Evaluation: The legal portion of the book is very well-done. The book’s credible descriptions of legal procedure and practice are reminiscent of Scott Turow, but the mood is lighter and funnier.
The romantic parts could have used a more skeptical editor, and some of the prose could have used an editor more grammatically astute. In no fewer than three instances, compound objects of prepositions were left in the nominative case. (As in: “No one in the office had been able to tag him for a homicide before the file made its way to Scott and I.”) Ouch! That’s just embarrassing.
Overall, the plot is not exceptionally well-crafted, but the author’s style is entertaining, and he shows promise as a writer of crime fiction if he loses the fantasy obsessions and studies some grammar books.