The Big Law by Chuck Logan

Chuck Logan was recommended to me as a good thriller writer who, like John Sandford, lives in and writes about Minnesota.

I can’t say that I won’t read any more of his books. But I’m afraid I liked this one a lot less than I hoped to.

I would have preferred to start with the first book in the Phil Broker series, Absolute Zero, but my bookstore didn’t have a copy. So I went with Number Two, The Big Law.

I’ve written before about male fantasy figures as series heroes. I think Phil Broker (mostly) fits into this category. He’s rich as a result of finding a huge treasure of gold in a foreign land. He lives in his own big, rustic house on the shore of Lake Superior, having retired young from police work. Over his fireplace he has hung a Viking dragon’s head ship’s prow (that wins him points with me).

On the other hand, most male fantasies don’t include raising a baby singlehanded.

Phil has a wife, a female soldier (and hero). She has returned to active service and is currently serving in Bosnia (the book was published in 1998) when Broker gets involved in a case involving his ex-wife, Caren Angland.

Caren calls him unexpectedly, asking to come and see him. She’s frightened. She’s married now to Keith Angland, another cop and Phil’s former friend. She has proof that Keith is crooked. That he has taken money from the Russian mafia and murdered an informant.

As she flees her husband, Caren picks up a newspaper reporter, Tom James, who is supposed to document the story. But Keith follows and gets to Phil’s house ahead of her. In the violence that follows, Caren falls into a waterfall to her death, Tom James gets shot, and Keith is arrested for Caren’s murder.

But if that’s the end of the story, why do both Phil and his soldier wife get threatening letters shortly afterward?

And what happened to the money Keith got from the mob?

Chuck Logan is a good writer. The story builds tension nicely. The writing is fresh and sharp. Logan chooses his words carefully, and places them for maximum effect.

And yet… I had trouble caring much.

I’ve been trying to figure out why I couldn’t identify with Phil Broker. I can’t point to a single defect in Logan’s depiction of his character.

But I felt like I couldn’t get near the man. He never came alive for me. Even though he displays great passion in his concern to protect his baby daughter, he never gets my full sympathy.

I’m a writer. I’m supposed to be able to analyze these things. But I can’t identify what’s wrong here.

I’ll probably have to read another in the series to see if the problem is Logan’s or mine.

6 thoughts on “The Big Law by Chuck Logan”

  1. Just touches on the center of every story, doesn’t it. If you don’t care about the characters, the story doesn’t matter. I suppose it can still entertain, but it will be like a poorly written, poorly acted Twilight Zone episode. Once you see the end, it’s not worth seeing again. You may even wonder if it was worth it the first time.

    The exception to this would be the story that reveals something about yourself, the monster you don’t want to be, so it has meaning that way–but maybe that’s a form of caring for the characters too.

  2. I tend to agree with Chesterton that if you don’t care about a character it’s a case of bad writing. In his book about Dickens he says that one of the greatest strengths Dickens had was to make everyone seem interesting. Certainly this must be the christian position. If we believe everyone has an immortal soul, this alone makes them interesting. If we add to this the fact everyone is unique (a factor seriously ignored among our class obsessed academics) a character can only be boring if the writer doesn’t understand them on a deep level.

  3. Brief note– the first Broker book is “The Price of Blood”. “Absolute Zero” is #3.

    The Broker character reminds me of someone I know–self contained, guarded, past studded with danger and violence…not prone to introspection. So I may project more into the character than is really put there by the author.

    I recently finished the most recent book in the series, and I do find them uneven. I’d probably pick “The Price of Blood” as the most adventurous, and “Absolute Zero” as the most harrowing.

    But I’ll read the next one to come out, if for no other reason than to see what happens to these people next. Logan does good action descriptions, and he creates the kind of bad guys I tend to enjoy seeing come to a bad end, which bad end he usually supplies rather thoroughly.

  4. I guess that points up what was a problem for me. Logan seemed more interested in his villain than in his hero, and his villain seemed better developed as a character.

  5. Hmmm…good insight.

    To some extent, I think I’m OK with being more concerned with a hero’s effectiveness than his deep motivations; getting the bad guy is enough motivation for me when I’m in the mood for a a blood and thunder yarn.

    But you’re right. It would be better if his heros had more depth.

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