Paul Levine,
Trial & Error
(Bantam, 2007)

Paul Levine's fourth entry in the Solomon vs. Lord series, Trial & Error, is just about the lightest novel I've read in recent memory, if ever. At a slim 267 pages, coupled with a storyline that more or less carries a heartbeat, you'll have no trouble at all in finishing this one on a rainy afternoon.

Similar in vein to novelist Carl Hiaasen's environmental thrillers, Levine's Trial & Error is about the search for both those responsible for trying to steal trained dolphins, as well as their motives for doing so. What begins as a quick "this guy did it and here's why" turns into something far larger once defense lawyer Steve Solomon realizes that not every piece of the mystery puzzle fits perfectly in its place.

The real fun, though, is the way in which the dolphin case is set up in court. When a prominent area prosecutor has to bow out because his bloodline runs too close to the case, he asks Victoria Lord, Steve's business partner and lover, to replace him. She agrees to it, partly because Solomon & Lord could use the high-profile case, but then quickly learns from Steve that he is already handling the defense. However, as the series title -- Solomon vs. Lord -- suggests, neither side is willing to drop out, setting up an odd, and funny, trial in which a single law firm is both the prosecution and the defense.

The steam the novel manages to muster through Steve's investigation and his snarky banter with Victoria, however, falters when the main story sidesteps to its B-story. Irrelevant, cliche and rather boring, the B-story involves Steve's nephew, Bobby, and his desire to move from the outfield on his little league baseball team to the coveted pitcher position. Though a B-story is oftentimes essential in stories and helps to break up big chunks of text, it just didn't work here for me and probably could have been cut altogether.

Another fault in Trial & Error is Levine's writing style, which is evidently still in need of some tweaking. Now, I liked the quick mentions of Osama bin Laden and the fakeness of Donald Trump's hair, but sentences like "The phone clicked off just as Steve called her a word that rhymes with 'rich'" is a bit sophomoric.

Though I didn't find Levine's writing to be as funny as an author like Hiaasen, Trial & Error still stands as a worthy addition to humor fiction's canon.

review by
Eric Hughes

6 September 2008

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