There’s a saying that those who can’t do a certain something end up being teachers of that topic. That certainly isn’t true of this week’s CFBA Tour author, James Scott Bell. He writes for Writer’s Digest magazine and has published “How To” writing books through their imprint. He got to that point by developing into a fine author in his own right.
His latest book is Try Darkness, the sequel to last year’s Try Dying (one of my favorite books in ’07). Bell is a former trial lawyer, and this series features Ty Buchanan, a former big-shot lawyer who is currently helping down and outers while living as a guest at a monastery and uses a coffee shop as his office. He is approached by a woman being forced out of a hotel that won’t allow long-term tenants (illegally). The woman has a young daughter in tow named Kylie. Ty promises to look into this case, along with other jobs such as defending a murder suspect. The woman ends up dead and Kylie, who has no known last name, is left with no one to care for her but Buchanan. The search for answers takes him from the haunts of forgotten veterans and crazy people to the yachts of the rich and famous. The answers are not always what they seem, and Ty finds that he has a darkness on the inside he must battle as well.
I hadn’t read any of Bell’s fiction until last year – a fact I continue to regret. I had never read much in the way of legal thrillers before. If other authors aren’t up to par with Mr. Bell, I may not want to still. Try Darkness comes across even better than the first book. He hooks you with the opening line and has the reader wriggling on the line by the closing.
Ty Buchanan is a smart-mouthed, fast thinking young lawyer, and his verbal sparring and conflicted character is very enjoyable. Bell has a penchant for sharp, witty dialogue. This is a book to study for how to write good dialogue. I laughed out loud in several passages. The characters are well-developed, from the pious, basketball playing nun Sister Mary Veritas, to Sam DeCosse the real estate magnate, to crazy Disco Freddy down at the run-down hotel. The book also brings Los Angeles to life, from the desert on the outskirts to the rich exclusive neighborhoods in the hills.
The plot is fast paced with short, punchy chapters and enough twists to keep a contortionist occupied. I tried but couldn’t guess the “whodunit” for the main storyline. I enjoyed the book through and through. The only picky little complaint I have is that many people in the book liked to “blink” when Buchanan zinged them with a witty line. That observation is probably due to a wannabe writer who can’t turn off the internal editor, so enjoy the well-crafted story.
My final verdict (groan) is that Bell has written another winning story and has developed Ty Buchanan into a very likable roguish leading man. This book is in serious running for my favorite of the year so far. I look forward to the next book in the series, especially since he truly does leave us dangling…
If you would like to read chapters 1 & 2, go HERE
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
JAMES SCOTT BELL is a former trial lawyer who now writes full time. He has also been the fiction columnist for Writers Digest magazine and adjunct professor of writing at Pepperdine University.
The national bestselling author of several novels of suspense, he grew up and still lives in Los Angeles. His first Buchanan thriller, TRY DYING, was released to high critical praise, while his book on writing, Plot and Structure is one of the most popular writing books available today.
“Bell has created in Buchanan an appealing and series-worthy protagonist, and the tale equally balances action and drama, motion and emotion. Readers who pride themselves on figuring out the answers before an author reveals them are in for a surprise, too: Bell is very good at keeping secrets. Fans of thrillers with lawyers as their central characters—Lescroart and Margolin, especially—will welcome this new addition to their must-read lists.”
“Engaging whodunit series kickoff . . . Readers will enjoy Bell’s talent for description and character development.”
“James Scott Bell has written himself into a niche that traditionally has been reserved for the likes of Raymond Chandler.”
—Los Angeles Times
“A master of suspense.”
“One of the best writers out there, bar none.”
—In the Library Review