Th1rt3en by Steve Cavanagh

This is unlike any thriller I’ve ever read before. The bold, red highlights on the fairly unassuming, plain black cover was the first thing to catch my attention, then no traditional “blurb” further intrigued me and lastly the testimonials from other high profile authors solidified my decision to pick up this book would be worthwhile. I haven’t read any of the other books in the Eddie Flynn series by Steve Cavanagh, but I have been assured by other members of the social media book community that they are on par with Th1rt3en and I have added them to my TBR list. They all work as standalones as Eddie’s backstory in each is kept brief. So, I start with the prologue… it ends 6 pages later with a sucker punch… and I’m drawn in to the story.

Setting the prologue aside, the whole book is set over 5 days; Monday to Friday and this “real-time” timeline effect suits this book to a T. It is fast paced, with relentless action coming at you from all directions; it’s both exhilarating and exhausting to read. But I didn’t want to, nor could I put it down. The notion in the tagline on the front cover “The serial killer isn’t on trial… He’s on the jury” strikes you with fear before even turning to the first page, because… what if it happened in real life? Would, or could, he be found out?

Taking a factually-driven journey into the USA’s legal system, FBI profiling, NYPD corruption and into the mind of a sensually numb criminal is not for the faint-hearted. I was both terrified and captivated by the concept of a procedural thriller exposing legal corruption whilst simultaneously revealing psychopathic elements of human nature. I found that I was constantly on tenterhooks from the exciting cat and mouse chase between the lawyers, law enforcement and fugitive. If you can cope with gruesome murder detail and the psychological effects from a impenitent killer who doesn’t show a shred of regret, then you might just make it to the end and possibly enjoy yourself along the way.

There are 2 main narrations throughout the book; Eddie Flynn the defense lawyer and the criminal who’s on the jury. I found surprising comfort in the 1st person interjections from Eddie Flynn, as he is the only character written from this POV, all others are 3rd person. I did wonder how the book would have read if the killer’s narrative was 1st person, but the 3rd person perspective works well to keep the reader from sympathising and associating with the character, so does work better with an antagonist. In some sections I couldn’t help but feel the “bad guy’s” motivations aren’t actually that unrealistic and could easily reflect the views of a real citizen. This brought up a scary sidenote because as the story goes on you, as the reader, become almost desensitised to death; it’s just “brushed off” as normal occurrence. “Oh he’s killed another person… next page…”. Not an entirely welcome mindset, so I had to keep reminding myself that no matter no real this story-line felt, it’s not a true-crime read.

So, although I was engrossed in the casual killing and brutality coursing through every page, I loved the breadcrumb twist reveals throughout, which, accompanied by the juror profiles really sets this book apart and splits up the narrative. Giving the brain a break from the nonchalant, ruthless killing feels necessary as it can overwhelm at points due to the brusque nature of the male characters. The badass females add a femininity to the story, which is otherwise dominated by male characters, but all the while not softening or dampening the unperturbed, detached lack of remorse on either side. He doesn’t want to be caught and will do anything to keep them from finding him, but they need to catch him and will do anything to do it. It’s hard-hitting to read, but tantalising and delicious at the same time; the criminal’s predictable unpredictability just keeps you on the edge of your seat. I held my breath for a lot of this book.

I’m a UK resident and I know very little about the legal system here (shame on me). All I know about the USA’s legal system is what I’ve seen on American cop shows, films and TV drama Suits (again shame on me). So, I have no real ground to stand on when I say parts of this book made me feel outraged at the US justice system, because although they publicly campaign for ‘innocent until proven guilty’, the prosecutor character did not demonstrate that every citizen deserves and is entitled to a fair hearing. I never really connected to the defendant character in the case, but he didn’t feature centrally in the plot, it was very much Eddie Flynn vs Prosecutor vs Criminal throughout. And that’s partly why I got morally angry, because the courtroom scenes were lawyer vs lawyer; it became a pissing contest between themselves and increasingly less about the life of the defendant. Eddie is a great character, and I liked him a lot, but his humble brilliance wasn’t always convincing and I did sense a showman under his skin. Ego is a powerful and dangerous thing, especially when an innocent person’s life depends on your ability to not only convince strangers on a jury that your client didn’t do it, but because you know the person who did do it is sitting amongst you.

There was a hint of “hollywood” throughout the book, in the way that the excitement was unrelenting and I could picture how the fight scenes would play out in a film script. Eddie Flynn is a con-man turned lawyer who seemed to keep running into physical confrontation with opposing characters in the way I can imagine a lead protagonist in an action film would. He always seems to survive with just enough damage to hurt but not fully incapacitate himself and let him live to fight another day. This can be partly attributed to his friends in high places and also the back up ladies turning up “just in time” at those crucial moments, which felt a little cheesy as it repeated a few times, but sure added an element of “girl power” to the plot. It sure would make a spectacular production, possibly even a series to explore his evident back story that I wish to read about in previous books.

I, personally, enjoy the structure of procedural thrillers, especially when I gain insight into multiple aspects of crime and consequence, but I know it’s not for everyone. The twists came thick and fast and made this a gripping un-put-downable read with definite “oh damn” moments. The profiling theme throughout was fascinating, coupled with the awareness, explanation and description of congenital analgesia kept me continuously engaged with all the characters. The omit of penance made this a dark and disturbing read, but so very, very good. If you can grit your teeth and bear the apparent unfazed, undaunted revels in taking human life without so much as a hint of inner turmoil or backward glance at remorse then this is a book for you. I just hope the situation depicted in this story never appears on a news headline – that really would validate that number 13 is lucky… or unlucky… depending which side of the jury box you’re on. – GJ

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