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False Dawn

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Like Paul Levine’s TO SPEAK FOR THE DEAD and NIGHT VISION, FALSE DAWN features Miami-based trial lawyer Jake Lassiter. In FALSE DAWN, Lassiter defends Francisco Crespo for the murder of Vladimir Smorodinsky, a fellow warehouse worker. Because Crespo once saved Lassiter’s life in a bar brawl, Lassiter does everything he can to acquit him, especially since he knows his client is not guilty. His investigation leads him to Matsuo Yagamata, Smorodinsky and Crespo’s employer. Yagamata is a tycoon and a connoisseur of expensive art, and it soon becomes clear that he has something to do with smuggling a vast collection of artwork out of Russia.

Also implicated in this crime (though in what way and to what end it takes Lassiter a while to uncover) are Lourdes Soto, a private detective working for Lassiter; her father Severo, a Cuban exile; Robert Foley, a CIA agent; Eva-Lisa Haavikko, a Finnish intelligence agent; Kharchenko, a former KGB agent; and Nicolai Smorodinsky, Vladimir’s brother.

As Lassiter pursues the cause of his client, he witnesses several murders and is mauled several times. He survives the latter because he is a former professional football player and the former because those most deeply involved in the main crime in the novel eventually need him. He is also aided in the more exotic aspects of his investigation by Charles Riggs, a coroner and Lassiter’s surrogate father.

Although a surfeit a climaxes regarding the stolen art gives the plot an anticlimactic feel, enough action informs them to maintain suspense. Also, though the characters are mostly one-dimensional, they hold one’s attention. Despite Levine’s tendency to pad his novel with courtroom scenes that have less to do with the story than with proving that Lassiter is a lawyer, these scenes show the carnival atmosphere that some civil suits can generate.