By BILL DUNCAN
It must be the nature of their profession that lawyers all seem to be want to be writers and those who succeed find it a more lucrative enterprise than writing briefs in couched language that only another lawyer understands. Lawrence Perlman, a retired lawyer has hung his shingle among those lawyer/writers and if his first novel is an example, I think readers will be seeing his byline on many best sellers.
His first novel, a mystery titled “The Last Layer,” gets the reader involved on page one and is reminiscent of Georges Simenon’s famous French detective, Maigret. Perlman’s character is also a French detective, Senior Inspector Gerard de Rochenoir of the elite French National Police, who is attempting to solve two daring jewelry robberies in Paris and during the course of the investigation someone turns up murdered.
The book’s title comes from an insurance term meaning a company that specializes in insuring risky ventures where the physical security is designed to prevent or deter theft. In this case, the insurance was against jewel thefts. That introduces Catherine York, an American insurance investigator trying to solve the two Paris thefts.
The investigation leads both Gerard and Catherine to the Caribbean island of St. Barth and thus begins the unraveling of the mystery. Perlman begins his story with a daring thief who scales a wall to enter a posh Paris residence, then use glass cutters to cut and suction a hole large enough to reach through and open sealed doors. Entry achieved, the thief deftly searches and finds a hidden safe, opens it using a medical stethoscope to detect telltale clicks of the safe’s combination and escapes with a fortune in jewels.
The theft has all the earmarks of a burglary that occurred two weeks earlier at an upscale Paris jewelry store and Gerard is certain the thefts are linked. He will not meet up with the insurance investigator Catherine until to two arrive separately at St. Barth and cross paths with Sophia Nostov, a jewel dealer with a mysterious path and a possible link to the crimes. In time, both Gerard and Catherine team up – in more ways than investigating –to solve the international mystery. While the story begins with Gerard in Paris and Catherine in New York, the setting is mostly in the Caribbean and the reader will get a virtual geography lesson in that part of the world.
Perlman spent his career legally advocating for women in the workplace, therefore that expertise shows in his construction of the feminine personalities in “The Last Layer.” The female characters are far from damsels in distress, but are multi-faceted professionals including criminals. It is a realistic tale of intrigue.
Personally, I would rate his writing skill along with male attorney/authors John Grisham, Scott Turow, Richard North Patterson and female attorney/authors Lia Matera and Christine McGuire. He has a remarkable knack for detail, mixed many times with humor that borders on John Mortimer’s Horace Rumpole.
I believe attorneys have some advantage over other authors in writing mysteries and legal thrillers because their very profession lends itself to great dialog and a true to life backdrop. Needless to say Erle Stanley Gardner, who created Perry Mason, used his courtroom skills to write a series of books about his character, combining mystery, intrigue and courtroom drama. Non-attorney authors like Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers have also used the courtroom as the setting for their famous mystery books.
(Bill Duncan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by writing to P.O. Box 812, Roseburg, OR 97470.)