Book Review – Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh

Published: 25th January 2018
Genre: Legal Thriller/Crime
Trigger warnings: Injury detail/gore, allusions to rape

They were Hollywood’s hottest power couple. They had the world at their feet. Now one of them is dead and Hollywood star Robert Solomon is charged with the brutal murder of his beautiful wife.

This is the celebrity murder trial of the century and the defence want one man on their team: con artist turned lawyer Eddie Flynn.

All the evidence points to Robert’s guilt, but as the trial begins a series of sinister incidents in the court room start to raise doubts in Eddie’s mind.

What if there’s more than one actor in the courtroom?

What if the killer isn’t on trial? What if the killer is on the jury?

This is an astonishingly clever thriller that is based around the most tantalising of concepts. Superbly plotted and containing characters who range from chilling to charismatic, it combines high-octane courtroom drama with a breathless bid to uncover the identity of a prolific serial killer, all topped off by a shocking twist towards the end.

It is actually the fourth in a series of books containing the defence lawyer Eddie Flynn, but this can be very easily read as a standalone. The pace at the beginning is slow but the story is menacing, and the tension just builds exponentially right the way through to the final page, making it exceptionally gripping and intense as it draws you into the contrasting minds of both lawyer and killer.

Eddie is estranged from his wife and daughter after a series of previous court cases endangered their lives, and he is thinking of making a change so they can reconcile. But then he is approached by high-profile attorney Rudy Carp to represent the actor Robert Solomon, who is accused of killing his wife and another man, in what is being dubbed the trial of the century.

Meanwhile, Joshua Kane is a prolific serial killer who gets a thrill out of murdering people for a living and framing others for his crimes. He will do whatever it takes to work his way on to the jury for the Robert Solomon case and ensure that he is convicted, which involves impersonating other people and eliminating any potential threats to his plan.

When the trial begins, certain pieces of evidence point strongly towards Solomon, but some shrewd cross-examination and detective work from Eddie and his team of investigators, starts to create reasonable doubt. But a number of sinister incidents occur and as more details of the crime are established, Eddie’s suspicions are turned towards the twelve members of the sequestered jury.

The plot lays the foundations brilliantly, following Kane as he carries out each step of his scheme with cold-hearted efficiency, and Eddie in the lead-up to the case. The detail is extremely intricate and trial itself was compelling; I loved the relentlessness of it and the growing sense of anticipation that arrives as Eddie begins to realise that the killer is right there in the jury box, pulling all the strings.

The question is, which one of the jurors is Kane? In between many of the chapters, we are given profiles of each jury member which include their age, occupation, and information about their lifestyle. There are numerous red herrings and we discover everything at the end in a remarkable twist that I simply did not see coming, but not before we find out the full extent of Kane’s criminal activities and the sophisticated pattern behind them.

Each chapter alternates between the perspectives of the two principal characters, with Kane in third person and Eddie in first person. I thought they complemented each other fantastically well, giving the reader an insight into their minds and really accentuating their conflicting intentions. Both are methodical and calculating, but on completely opposite sides of the law.

I liked Eddie both as a narrator and a character. He is smart and works tirelessly, only defending those who he believes are innocent beyond all doubt. In the courtroom, he can be quite crafty and he successfully persuades the judge to allow him to carry out some elaborate demonstrations, all to support his theory on the case. It was always intriguing to find out the next trick he had up his sleeve.

As for Kane, well he is as evil a character as you could possibly get. He is vicious and sadistic, but also highly intelligent and incredibly good at covering his tracks. There are times in the book where it seems like he is untouchable, given his ability to infiltrate and ensures that the evidence always points to somebody else. To make him even more fearsome, he has congenital analgesia, a condition that makes it impossible for him to feel pain.

The story mostly concentrates on the issues at hand, but the supporting cast are reasonably well developed. Pryor is the chief prosecutor; the kind that only cares about winning the case and putting on a show for the jury, but he was actually quite nuanced. Harper and Harry were both fun characters to read, and I also liked learning more about all of the jurors.

It took me a couple of chapters to get used to the writing and the atmosphere of the story, but before long I was totally engrossed. The attention to detail was outstanding and it was fascinating to unpick all the fine details of the case, along with Kane’s infinite list of crimes. Almost everything about the plot was executed perfectly; indeed the only problems I had were question marks over how Kane manipulated some of the evidence, and the odd continuity error.

The pace is ferocious towards the end and my goodness, the resolution was quite something. For some time, I as the reader was led to believe one thing, and then I felt the rug pulled from underneath me in the most startling fashion. It is the kind of twist that makes you gasp, and in that moment a book that is already excellent is made all the more memorable.

Overall, the concept of having the serial killer as a covert member of the jury is absolutely inspired, and it is one that is used to great effect. It keeps you on the edge of your seat and almost dying to read on and find out what happens next, such is the skill with which the author balances the technical aspects of the case with a thrilling plot that never lets up until the last.

As a lawyer, Steve Cavanagh has been involved in several high-profile cases relating to civil rights. Born in Belfast, he completed his qualifications in Dublin and made that his career until also becoming an author, with his debut novel, The Defence, being released in 2015.

With the series featuring Eddie Flynn, he has developed something of a reputation for writing unpredictable, edge-of-the-seat thrillers. It continued with Fifty Fifty in 2020, while he also published a standalone, Twisted, in 2019.

A thoroughly absorbing book that is just really hard to put down. Easily one of the best thrillers I have read this year.

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

21 thoughts on “Book Review – Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh

  1. ohhhhhhhhh…i’ve seen this book floating around and wanted to read it but got pushed down the tbr list…. but now got pumped up thanx to you…. looking forward to reading it in october ^^

    Liked by 1 person

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