St. Petersburg author James Sheehan's latest novel, The Lawyer's Lawyer, follows his first two courtroom thrillers, The Mayor of Lexington Avenue (2005) and The Law of Second Chances (2008). All three chronicle the exploits of Florida attorney Jack Tobin. A flawed but likable protagonist who is known as one of the best lawyers in the state, Tobin has a propensity for getting tangled in the kudzu of complicated criminal cases in steamy backwoods Florida towns that are crawling with crooked lawyers, shady cops and slimy public officials.
Tobin has retired from the practice of corporate litigation in South Florida a fabulously wealthy man, free to laze around fictional Bass Creek, fishing and drinking beer with his pal and investigator, Henry, whom Tobin saved from Florida's death chamber at the last possible second.
There isn't anything Henry wouldn't do for Tobin, who specializes in defending the wrongfully accused and has the luxury of doing so on a pro bono basis when the mood strikes him. So when the case of a convicted serial killer believed to be responsible for the murders of several students on a Florida college campus needs a closer look, the two set out for North Florida. Once they start looking into some red flags in the case that landed the suspect on death row, things begin to unravel and Tobin winds up behind bars, himself in need of a really good lawyer — a lawyer's lawyer.
Sheehan takes some risks in his third novel, namely opening with a chilling and all too familiar scene — a young woman is stalked on a Florida college campus by a stranger who attempts to shove her into a Volkswagen Beetle — followed by a string of murders of students, which terrorizes the entire population of the college town. This fictional evocation of two horrific sieges in Florida college towns — murders committed by serial killers Ted Bundy in Tallahassee in the late 1970s and Danny Rolling in Gainesville in the 1990s — may be difficult for some readers to take. But Sheehan, who teaches trial law and is the director of the Tampa Law Institute at Stetson University College of Law, does a fine job of depicting both the surreal nightmare of such an event and the inexorable pressure on law enforcement to arrest those responsible at any and all costs.
Lorrie Lykins is a longtime correspondent with the Times.