Monday, March 05, 2012

Inadvertent Disclosure by Melissa F. Miller

I love a book with a good title, and ‘Inadvertent Disclosure’, the new instalment in the Sasha McCandless series, like its predecessor Irreparable Harm has a distinctly ‘legal’ flavour right from the outset. Picking up from where ‘IH’ had left off, we find Sascha working for herself after leaving Prescott & Talbott ; she is still dating FBI agent Leo Connelly and practising Krav Maga, a skill which, of course, will come in handy in the course of the story. During an out-of-town court appearance, a judge suddenly hands Sasha a new case, which involves acting for an elderly man whom the county is trying to have declared incapacitated. Of course, the case will turn out to have deeper implications than anticipated, and our diminutive attorney will soon find herself knee-deep in the murky waters of local politics, corruption and the environmental damage brought by the county’s new gold fever: hydrofracking. I won’t spoil the rest, but don’t worry: Sasha is in top form. 

The second in its series, ID could easily have suffered from the syndrome of ‘that difficult second novel’ - a phenomenon that also affilicts music and cinema. I must admit that the opening chapters had failed to grip me the way IH had done. ID opens with a flashback - one of my least favourite literary and cinematic devices - involving characters who appear later on in the story. It’s a brave attempt to take it up a notch in terms of experimenting with the narrative structure, but it’s only partly successful, because those particular characters, and their motivations, are extensively described in the rest of the novel anyway. It seems unnecessary. However, Sasha comes into the scene soon enough, and after that, we get a straight, linear narrative and plenty of action: legal stuff, medical stuff, environmental stuff and a couple of dead bodies. Perfect. 

I was sceptical, at first, about how Sasha McCandless would sustain our interest outside of the shark-infested waters of corporate law. A large part of what makes IH so interesting is seeing what coping strategies Sasha, as a young, ambitious attorney, developed over the years to function is what is essentially a de-humanised, ruthless working environment, only just surpassed, one imagines, by corporate finance. But, despite Sasha’s newly acquired freedom from Prescott & Talbott, the pace in this second novel does not slacken and there are plenty of legal intricacies to keep the reader busy. By the fourth or fifth Sasha book I am sure that most readers will be absolutely convinced that they have a pretty good grasp of the US legal system. It takes some serious skills to achieve that: to make a dry, often abstruse subject matter so fascinating and to give the reader the illusion of understanding what’s going on. It’s a bit like watching an episode of House MD: for an hour a week, we believe we understand medicine. It’s narrative magic at its very best. 

Melissa F. Miller is, unsurprisingly, a lawyer herself. I am sure that there are many attorneys out there dabbling in writing, churning out mediocre novels that either confuse the uninitiated reader or patronise them with mind-numbingly boring law-by-numbers exposition. But Miller, who studied medieval literature and creative writing, is not one of them. Therefore, what she produces is intelligent, gripping legal thrillers which you will want to keep reading until the early hours of the morning, until you see ‘THE END’, safe in the knowledge that you can look forward to another Sasha McCandless book soon (at the time of writing, the third instalment is due April 2012). 

If you are new to this author, do yourself a favour and download IH first, and get to know Sasha McCandless. I guarantee that you will not want to leave the fascinating world that Melissa F. Miller has managed to create; the hard work, the pressure, the endless cups of coffee. Above all, you will not want to leave the company of this feisty, formidable lawyer. All I can say is, I can’t wait to read the next one. See you all in Pittsburgh.

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