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Paul Levine, the one-time Miami journalist and big-firm lawyer, has gone Hollywood. But he still writes Florida — comic Florida legal thrillers, to be precise. His rapid-fire Solomon vs. Lord series — three books published in the past year, and one more due out next spring — has earned him a rightful place in the upper tier of Florida mystery writers. That genre, capturing the sun-baked depravity and zaniness of the Sunshine State, has boundaries wide enough to embrace John D. MacDonald, Edna Buchanan, Carl Hiassen, and even the humorist Dave Barry. Now Levine, who first joined their ranks a decade or so ago with the Jake Lassiter series, has outdone himself in a new series by moving toward the screwball Hiassen end of the spectrum, but with a dash of John Grisham’s empathy for the underdog lawyer. The result is hilarious. There would be no better way to extend your beach reading season into the fall and winter than to read Levine’s trilogy: Solomon vs. Lord, The Deep Blue Alibi, and the just-published Kill All the Lawyers. Levine has written them all from his home in Los Angeles, not Miami. He moved to California in 1999, to pursue a dream of working in movies and television, a dream he’s not ready to relinquish. Levine wrote more than 20 episodes of “JAG,” the military-justice television series, and helped launch the ill-fated series “First Monday,” a well-meaning stab at dramatizing the Supreme Court, with James Garner playing the chief justice. “It was a spectacular flop,” he recalls in an interview. Levine returns to Miami often, to make sure his portrayal of Florida justice is fresh. He frequents the courthouses, just as he did as a Miami Herald court reporter in the 1970s and then as a trial lawyer for 17 years in the Miami office of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. From those experiences come characters like Marvin the Maven, a retired shoe salesman who attends trials and has a knack for picking sympathetic jurors. Then there’s the judge who draws his precedents from Perry Mason novels. But the main shtick of the series is the “Adam’s Rib”-style relationship between Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord, two lawyers who become partners and lovers in spite of their day-and-night differences. You know the types; every law school class has them. There’s Solomon, the grubby, rule-bending street lawyer whose idea of dressing up is to don a clean T-shirt with the logo THE ONLY MARK I’VE MADE IN LIFE IS IN MY UNDERWEAR. His rules of legal practice, which he announces in nearly every chapter, include “When the law doesn’t work . . . work the law” and “A lawyer who’s afraid of jail is like a surgeon who’s afraid of blood.” And Lord? She’s the beautiful, disciplined Yale Law School grad, old-money Miami with perfect clothes and Prada pumps, a former prosecutor who readily acknowledges she has no heart. She comes to court with deposition transcripts cross-indexed and color-coded. The relationship between Solomon and Lord alternates page by page from lust to admiration to disgust, bordering on murder. What makes it plausible — and what makes Solomon even remotely lovable — is his soft spot for the autistic savant nephew who lives with him. The boy’s obscure talents include the ability to turn every name into an anagram instantly. Mention Monica Lewinsky and he’ll blurt out, “INSANE MILKY COW.” Blend in the usual array of alligators, snakes, dope-smoking sheriffs, and other tropical wildlife, and you have the picture. These books are pure escapism, a glimpse into the legal career you might have wished for — or dreaded. Levine is having a ball turning these books out, and discovering that readers actually like them — more than 500,000 have been sold. “It’s amazing that you can make a living telling stories, instead of doing something productive,” Levine says, adding, “Not that big-firm lawyering is productive.”
Legal Times Supreme Court correspondent Tony Mauro can be contacted at [email protected].

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