The Defense (Joseph Antonelli #1), by D.W. Buffa

Eight stars

After reading a few of his more recent novels, I chose to go back into the earlier collections of D.W. Buffa. Always a fan of legal thrillers, I knew this series would pull me in quickly. Joseph Antonelli is quite the defence lawyer, citing that he has never lost a case he ought to have won and was victorious many times when he should have been on the losing side. This cocky attitude served him well when he began practicing in Portland, Oregon, but also painted quite the target on his back. When he is approached by a judge to represent a difficult client, Antonelli leaps at the opportunity to serve as a cog in the wheel of justice. His client, Johnny Morel, is accused of raping his step-daughter, though he denies it vehemently. Antonelli must work his magic in order to ensure justice is met, even if he may not trust that his client speaks the truth. As they prepare for trial, Antonelli engages with his client and prepares him for what is to come, no matter how ugly things could get. In a trial that pits the word of a man against that of a pre-teen, the jury must determine where they see the truth, as Antonelli puts on a great display in the courtroom. Armed with the testimony of Morel’s wife—against her own daughter—Antonelli finds his own form of justice. However, this is not the end of the matter. Five years later, Morel is gunned down in cold blood, seemingly by the woman who sought to help exonerate him, adding questions to the truth that came out in court. In a thrilling tale of courtroom drama and personal vendetta, Antonelli must decide where he stands and how Lady Justice will be seduced by those who use her for their own means. A wonderful introduction to this series by Buffa, exploring justice in all its forms and spinning things effectively until the final sentence. Recommended to those who love a well-developed legal thriller with depth and a bite throughout.

While I have read two books by D.W. Buffa that pertain specifically to the American political situation, this exploration of its legal system was just as interesting and quite telling. In this series debut, Buffa seeks to put the law and justice on trial in the court of public opinion, examining how well they work and whether the system can come together effectively to serve those who need it most. Joseph Antonelli proves to be an interesting character, though his personal life is in shambles. Accused of treating his relationships like his cases—always plotting the next one before the current one has come to an end—he seeks a spark without giving much. He is acutely aware of the law and how things work, bending aspects to ensure they work for him when needed. However, he is not without a soul, never able to cheat the system for a client. I am eager to see how he develops throughout this series, which is sure to have many more revelations. Others in the book help to enrich the narrative, to the point that I am eager to see how many return for the second novel. Legal minds, personal friends, and curious individuals who help propel the story forward are all part of Buffa’s larger plan and keep the reader hooked to the plot. With this deeper and more rooted legal thriller, the reader should expect some mental challenges moving forward, rather than something whimsical and quick to digest. This opening novel chose not to focus on a central case, but rather laid the groundwork for Antonelli’s defence work in general. This could prove a hurdle for some readers, who enjoy the lineal nature of a legal or courtroom thriller, but I suspect it was Buffa’s way to create a foundation for the series. I cannot wait to see what else this series has to offer and how Antonelli will develop throughout!

Kudos, Mr. Buffa, for yet another novel that has me thinking. I am eager to see what twists you have for us in the novels that follow.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: