Fifty Fifty by Steve Cavanagh

Reviewed by Rod McLary

A father is stabbed to death in his bedroom by one of his two daughters – both of whom are in the house at the time, both have blood on them, both have their fingerprints on the weapon, and both call 9-1-1 and accuse the other of the crime.  Who is the murderer?  The reader only knows who the victim is – an ex-Mayor of New York with powerful friends and equally powerful enemies.  His previous role ensures that the ensuing trial will be a high profile one which will make or break careers.

This is the premise of Fifty Fifty – the new crime thriller by one of Ireland’s better crime writers.

Eddie Flynn – now a lawyer – was once a conman and a successful one at that.  As a conman, he flew a little too close to the sun and decided he was better off on the right side of the law.  His conman skills haven’t left him though and he calls on them as he steers his way through this mystery.  He has been engaged by one of the sisters – Sofia – to defend her as she faces a charge of murder.

Initially, Eddie presents as brash and over-confident with a touch of street fighter about him.  As the novel progresses though, he softens – not in his capacity to defend his client but in his general demeanour.  He begins to gain some insight into his past behaviour and how it has affected his relationships and is now affecting a current relationship.  Consequently, the reader gradually becomes more sympathetic to Eddie and his story and increasingly wants him to win.

The other sister – Alexandra – engages as her defence team a law firm where one of the partners is a serial sexual pest and, more recently, has subjected Kate – a newly qualified lawyer and only six months ‘in the job’ – to his unwanted and unsubtle advances.  After a confrontation, Kate resigns and sets up practice by herself.  She is then engaged by Alexandra as her defence lawyer.

Credit must be given to the author in successfully drawing the character of Kate who leaves a high-end law firm because of sexual harassment and then, as a sole practitioner, becomes sufficiently empowered to take on the same law firm and to win handsomely.

The scene is now set for a showdown in court between Eddie and Kate – each of whom is convinced that his/her client is innocent.  However, as can be expected, it was never going to be that straightforward.  Witnesses either disappear or are taken out of the picture in dramatic fashion – and, in one case, by the strategic use of a small axe.  There is also an unidentified person on a motorcycle who appears from time to time and whose appearances, brief as they are, usually result in a death.

Steve Cavanagh also points the finger at a corrupt judge already biased against the accused sisters and an Assistant District Attorney who is more concerned with the success which will flow from winning the case than with the concept of justice and fairness.

The author employs a common device in telling the story where each chapter is told by one or other of the key characters and named after the character.  But, in an uncommon manner, he maintains the suspense regarding the identity of the murderer until the last possible moment by naming the chapters narrated by one or other of the sisters as ‘She’.  The reader cannot tell which sister is narrating the chapter and therefore cannot predict the outcome.

This is a very good thriller and, while its primary plot is the murder and who is guilty, there is a balance provided by the personal changes in Eddie and the increasing importance of his friendships.  It is a very human story in showing how the stressful experiences we go through can often bring about positive changes in how we conduct ourselves.  A recommended read.

Steve Cavanagh was born and raised in Belfast before moving to Dublin to study law.  He practises civil rights law and has been involved in a number of high-profile cases.  His novel The Liar won the 2018 CWA Gold Dagger award and his follow-up novel Thirteen won the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year in 2019.  His following novel Twisted was a best seller.

Fifty Fifty

[2020]

by Steve Cavanagh

Hachette Australia

ISBN 978 1 4091 8585 7

$32.99; 349pp

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