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by Aaron Richard Golub
St. Martin's Press, February 2000
346 pages
$out of print
ISBN: 0312245386

He's represented many of the rich and famous from the New York society and business scene, but he's never had a client like Pandora Markham before. Johnny Ocean is the owner of a private investigative firm located with his residence at a 5-story building on Park Avenue in New York City. He's a sole practitioner who is a courtroom dynamo, and his latest case is a referral from Jack Dyson, partner in an upscale law firm who throws cases that are too small or too politically sensitive Johnny's way.

Pandora was married to Marcel Markham who supposedly committed suicide (or did he?) and died intestate. His wealthy sister, Babette Longworth, had given or loaned him 170 million dollars. The distinction between whether the money was a gift or loan is crucial, because since his death, his sister Babette is claiming that the money should be returned to her. Johnny is theoretically assisting Pandora's lead attorney, who is totally incompetent. His main responsibility is to take Babette's deposition. If Johnny can prove that the money was a gift, then it will end up in Pandora's hands. If it is shown to be a loan, then she's up the creek.

Before Johnny even gets involved in the case, he receives a steamy video of Pandora in an intimate moment. Tellingly, Johnny is mentally seduced by his own client, a state of mind that hurts him terribly in the long run. Pandora forwards him some files relating to the case; and shortly thereafter, Johnny's home is broken into with his night manager being killed and Johnny being seriously injured with a gunshot wound to the shoulder. Evidence points to the perpetrator being a man named Bill Rogers, who was Pandora's ex-husband, and who also ends up dead.

Golub takes us on a journey into several different worlds in this gem of a novel. The first is Surrogate's Court where matters relating to estates are settled. It doesn't sound like a very exciting place; but in Golub's hands, it takes on a different dimension from the expected. The opposing attorney, Vito Bellicoso, was at one time a big politico in Westchester County, and he has some personal clout that makes it difficult for Johnny to do a fair job for his client. There are various instances of Vito being in collusion with the judge for the case; but it's one of those things that you don't even bother to try to prove because you end up losing in the long run. Fortunately, Ocean knows how to play the game; but that doesn't necessarily mean that right will prevail. As Golub points out, there are many strange rules in Surrogate's Court that don't necessarily lead to justice being served. As the trial proceeds and further inequities are heaped upon Johnny, it feels as though he is tiptoeing through a minefield where the slightest misstep will result in disaster.

We are also exposed to the world of the New York Chinese Mafia. As he tries to understand the Bill Rogers tie-in to Pandora, Johnny infiltrates the hospital so he can view the body. While doing so, he meets a young Chinese woman named Y; and they move from initial suspicion into a satisfying relationship. Her father is a powerful figure in the Chinese underworld, and that has a significant bearing on the events of the story.

And the third world is the Indian Sikh culture of New York City. There is an Indian gentleman who works for Johnny known as Mr. K. K variously serves as a butler, bodyguard and adviser to Johnny. He has a strong network of his fellow Sikhs in New York who serve as invisible investigators or a powerful police force when needed. K is a wonderful creation, a non-stereotypical assistant with turbans of many colors who has well-chosen words of wisdom and only uses violence as a last resort. His only concern is for Johnny's safety and security. It is his mission to take care of Johnny, and he does it well.

Golub has done a fine job in this his first effort. As a lawyer with a clientele similar to that of his protagonist, he has added the kinds of details that only someone who's been there can know. There were very few weaknesses, nothing that seriously damaged my enjoyment of the book. I didn't care for the sex scenes that were included. They seemed gratuitous to me, but that may just be my own personal bias. I also felt that the resolution of the book depended on a gimmick that wasn't quite fair play for the reader. On the other hand, the conclusion was not predictable which was a positive.

The plotting was complex, and the characters well developed. The character of K in particular was an excellent addition. It would have been easy to use the stereotypical Parker kind of sidekick, but K was not remotely that kind of individual. Golub has a smooth narrative style and a nifty way of turning a phrase. To the charge of liking this book, I plead "guilty". I hope to spend a lot more time on trial with Johnny Ocean in the


Reviewed by Maddy Van Hertbruggen, March 2003

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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