Compelling Evidence by Steve Martini (Book Review)

  • Ananya Tewari
  • July 23, 2020

Content :

Steve Martini’s book Compelling Evidence is the first installment of the popular Paul Madriani\'s courtroom drama series, and you can glimpse the beginning of the author’s evolution as a superb writer.Martini started his career as a journalist,where he specialized in legal and political coverage.Later he acquired a law degree in 1974 from the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law. Martini has practiced law with private firms as well as for public agencies, appearing in state and federal courts. In the mid-1980s he began his fiction writing career.The Simeon Chamber, was his first attempt at a novel and was represented by an agent and sold to the New York publisher D.I. Fine within two weeks of its submission. It was published in 1987. Compelling Evidence, his second novel, introduced the series character, defense attorney Paul Madriani, and was published by G.P. Putnam & Sons. A national bestseller, the novel earned Martini a critical acclaim and popular following. It was quickly followed by New York Times bestsellers Prime Witness, Undue Influence, The Judge, and The Attorney, each featuring the series protagonist Madriani and his unrestrained law partner, Harry Hinds. Martini has written thirteen bestselling novels which include Compelling Evidence. A couple of the books in the series have also been adapted as television series. 

This book is a murder mystery and courtroom drama that keeps the audience on their toes with its shocking twists and turns. It focuses on the crime as well as the legal aspects of the courtroom which makes for an interesting perspective. It follows Paul Madriani, a struggling practice attorney, who is not always likeable. Much like popular anti-hero lawyer protagonists of the genre, such as Boston Legal’s Denny Crane or Suits’ Harvey Specter, he is shrewd and calculating, but in a way that doesn\'t come across as crass. He is a brilliant criminal defence attorney who was once a prominent associate on the rise with a prestigious law firm that dealt with corporate cases. In the aftermath of an affair with the firm’s senior partner, Ben Potter’s wife, Paul left the firm and took a self-imposed exile in a small solo practice.

Throughout the book,Madriani goes through the personal struggle where he regrets the affair while struggling to hold together the remnants of his failed marriage. As the story progresses, we also get to know that Ben Potter has earned himself a probable nomination to the US Supreme Court. But on the eve of the nomination, Potter is found dead in his office, a shotgun lying next to his body, an apparent suicide. Upon further investigation, this apparent suicide turns into a murder and the needle of suspicion begins to point towards the victim’s wife, Talia Potter. Indicted and arrested for murder, trapped in a web of lies and mystery as her husband’s associates plot for control of the firm, Talia turns to Madriani, her former lover, to save her from this heap of circumstantial evidence – her alibi is full of holes, she has money motives, her infidelity is a renowned fact and to top it all an ambitious chief prosecutor is hell bent on sending her to the gallows. 

The use of first-person narrative allows readers to follow the trajectory of Madriani’s thoughts and shows a well-developed character who is conflicted and unsure, about his client and his own abilities, and his faith in the law and the ability of those charged to uphold it. First person narrative also helps the readers empathise with the character and take part in the discovery and responses to the surrounding action and understanding his motivations.

Despite a strong protagonist, the pacing of this book leaves a lot to be desired.It takes a little time to follow the story as the first chapter starts a little abruptly.But after the first few pages, the author seems to find his feet on the ground and the story moves along smoothly. The book is a page turner and most readers would find the it hard to put the book down.As much as you want to know the end, you also want to know how this end comes about. I must confess that this was my first courtroom mystery drama, but I was blown away by how wonderfully Martini explained the courtroom procedures for people who are not necessarily familiar with that world.It was vivid and almost feels like one is witnessing an actual hearing and experiencing how the lawyers argue.Although this book uses a lot of legal jargons, the narration and the dialogues keep you well informed and in the loop.While the plot is intriguing, the part that truly stands out to me are the courtroom scenes. The author describes every motion interestingly and you get an insight into various opposing forces at play in this legal battle and what they are trying to achieve.The book introduces the district attorney and his staff as well as the judge and you get an insight on each of their character. Writing different characters and expressing their motivations and giving glimpses of their inner thoughts is not an easy feat, and it is Martini’s craft that really shines through in this regard. For instance,when the judge is introduced to the readers, you canfigure out his personal issues, and that he does not want anything to go wrong as it might look bad for him. 

The issues with pacing crop up again towards the end of the book. It seems like in order to shock the readers with the reveal and end the story on a high note, Martini crams all the clue sat the end rather than placing a few clues throughout the book alluding to the murderer.I was absolutely sure there would be some intense dramatic resolution in the court at the end where Madriani will disclose the accused in a shocking revelation or better yet some action-packed encounter with the murderer that would ultimately prove accused’s innocence.

To conclude, the book in an enjoyable read and readers of courtroom dramas would definitely relish the mystery and the courtroom tactics employed by the series protagonist. As a law student I was entertained with the glamorous, if not real, iteration of the profession, and will read the other books in the series to keep up with Madriani’s character. Overall,I would love to give this book 3.5 out of 5 because of its well-crafted courtroom scenes.