Monday, September 16, 2013

Review of John Lescroart's A Plague of Secrets

A Plague of Secrets by John Lescroart

You've got a tower of books at home, and yet there's nothing you want to read. That was my predicament this weekend. I took a look at and then I was off to the library for a book I'd missed in the Dismas Hardy/Abe Glitsky legal thrillers series by John Lescroart (pronounced "less-kwah").

Lescroart isn't a lawyer. He graduated with a degree in English from Cal Berkeley and worked as a musician in the San Francisco Bay Area. His professional writing career began when he gave a manuscript, Sunburn, to his old high school English teacher. The guy didn't like it but his wife did, and she submitted it to a competition for California writers, where it won first place. Lescroart published a few books while working a variety of day jobs until 1989, when he went surfing, contracted spinal meningitis and lay in a hospital bed for 11 days. After that, he quit his day job and wrote full time. Dead Irish, published in 1989, and 1990's The Vig feature San Francisco lawyer Dismas Hardy. The third book, Hard Evidence, pairs Hardy with his friend, a black Jewish homicide cop named Abe Glitsky. The Ophelia Cut, seventeenth in the series, was published in May.

Dennis Quaid =
Dismas Hardy
Delroy Lindo =
Abe Glitsky
Hardy and Glitsky became friends while they were both young cops. Hardy, whom Lescroart sees as actor Dennis Quaid, left the force for the law. His first marriage ended after the death of his young son, and Hardy lost a decade drinking and tending bar before he sobered up. He and his wife of 23 years, Frannie, have two kids away at college. After working as an assistant district attorney, Hardy switched sides and is the managing partner of a criminal defense law firm. His friend and sometimes foe, Glitsky, is the savvy head of San Francisco's homicide department. He has an "intimidating facial arsenal" of scarred lips, eyes that glow like coals and a prominent hatchet of a nose. He and wife Treya, secretary to the district attorney, have two young children.

Current and former personal and professional relationships of these two men are an integral part of these books and so is the setting of San Francisco, the city that writer Herb Caen called "Baghdad by the Bay." The well-drawn characters live believable lives and readers experience San Francisco's "fruits and nuts," "laissez-faire reality," restaurants and food (for some of Hardy's "black frying pan meals" see Lescroart's recipes here), buildings, neighborhoods, politics and social issues. The fifteenth series book, A Plague of Secrets, is almost like a family reunion for Lescroart fans because it includes characters from previous books, and another series featuring private investigator Wyatt Hunt.

When A Plague of Secrets begins, the Glitskys' three-year-old son Zack has had a bicycle accident and is in an induced coma. His dad blames himself, and his funk goes a long way toward explaining why his homicide underlings, Darrel Bracco and his partner Debra Schiff, aren't as well supervised as usual when they investigate the murder of Dylan Vogler, manager of the popular coffee shop, Bay Beans West. Vogler 's dead body, clasping a backpack full of baggies containing weed, was found at the shop's back door. That, his computerized client list of many well-known San Franciscans, his outrageously high salary and the disrespectful way he treated the woman who owns BBW, Maya Townshend, make Bracco and Schiff suspicious. Townshend is the wife of a prominent real estate developer, sister of a Board of Supervisors member and the niece of the mayor, and the ambitious US attorney smells a career-making case. It's a good thing she hires Dismas Hardy to defend her against civil and criminal charges.

The Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco
Lescroart's issue-driven legal thrillers are intricately plotted and suspenseful. This one is as much a satisfying whodunit as a courtroom drama. The characters' dialog and relationships are both entertaining and realistic. I'm not a lawyer, so I can't say how realistic the courtroom scenes are (Lescroart has several lawyer friends read his manuscripts), but I don't really care. These books are a lot of fun and you don't need to wait for when you can't figure out what else to read.


  1. (Delroy doesn't have a scar through his lip, and he "doesn't "look jewish.")
    I re-read a bunch of the books, starting with Sunburn. That book didn't have Dismas and Glitsky, but it was really good. Lescroart not only has good characters and a good mystery - he makes important social points -

  2. Kathryn, I'm glad to meet another Lescroart fan.

    I should have specified that when asked who he'd like to play his two characters on film, Lescroart said Delroy Lindo should play Glitsky. I guess Delroy would need makeup to give him the scar.

    You're right. These issue-driven books are more than legal thrillers. They make important social points. A PLAGUE OF SECRETS looks at how powerful the feds are when they use property forfeiture in drug cases.