By David Myles Robinson
My latest novel, TROPICAL DOUBTS, is the third in my Pancho McMartin legal thrillers (the first two are TROPICAL LIES and TROPICAL JUDGMENTS). Pancho is a high-powered criminal defense attorney in Honolulu who is brilliant in court, but who has a hard time sustaining a romantic relationship due to his devotion to the law. I created him as a character with the weird first name of Pancho as a kind of nod to my new place of residence, Taos, NM, after having spent forty years as a trial attorney in Hawaii. Pancho’s parents were original hippies who dropped out of school and moved to one of the communes in Taos. As Taos was, and still is, a predominantly Hispanic community, his parents claimed that they named him Pancho so that he would fit in better in school. Pancho’s theory, however, is a little more realistic. He opines that after he was born his parents celebrated by dropping acid and named him while they were stoned.
In addition to Pancho, the recurring characters in the Tropical series are Drew Tulafono, a big Samoan ex-NFL player who is Pancho’s best friend, surfing buddy, and private investigator; Susan, his long-time secretary and sometime mother figure; Elise, his new, young secretary being primed to take over for Susan; and several love interests, the latest of whom is Padma, the former medical examiner for the City & County of Honolulu.
In TROPICAL DOUBTS, Pancho is asked by an old family friend to represent him in a medical malpractice case arising out of what should have been a simple surgery on the friend’s wife, but which resulted in her falling into a permanent vegetative state. Pancho is hesitant to take on the case as he is not a med mal specialist, but his friend insists. So Pancho and Drew begin the discovery process to try to determine what went wrong. But things take a nasty turn when Pancho’s friend is arrested for the murder of one of the doctors who had operated on his wife. Suddenly Pancho is knee deep in a murder case as well as the medical malpractice case in which the plaintiff is an accused murderer.
I don’t really think of my legal novels as mysteries, although there are certainly elements of suspense and surprise in each. It is the processof the law which has always interested me most, and which is what I enjoy most in legal thrillers I read. When I was practicing law, I loved cross-examination of witnesses, which differs from direct examination in that it is less controlled, more exciting. Direct examination of a client or witness is well rehearsed and, if all goes well, predictable. But cross-examination is where a trial attorney can alter the course of a trial. Perhaps the examination will be subtle and polite, lulling the witness into making damaging admissions without even being aware it was happening. Or, more fun but also riskier, the cross-examining attorney may go after a witness with a vengeance. I say riskier because I will always remember one of my first jury trials in which my client was suing a homeowner for negligence. The homeowner was a fireman, who had lied during his deposition and I went after him hard, forcing him to admit over and over that he had lied. I lost the case and, in talking with the jury afterward, it became clear that I’d been too hard on the fireman during my cross-examination. Juries tend to have a great deal of sympathy for firemen and policemen, and even if they are caught in lies to protect themselves, the juries will give a close call to the first responder. A lesson learned.
I have to resist the temptation to lean on the drama of a great cross-examination in my novels as the key to Pancho winning his case. The first Pancho novel, TROPICAL LIES, did just that, and most readers responded well to the courtroom scenes. But I quickly learned that novels written as series (albeit stand-alone as a story) stand the risk of becoming too formulaic and predictable. I hope that each of my Tropical novels so far is different enough to entertain and, when appropriate, surprise. I don’t know what’s in store for Pancho next, but I do have some ideas floating around. I like to take a break from the legal series after each one and write something completely different. I’m hoping that by doing so I will keep things fresh and new.
David Myles Robinson
As will become readily apparent, my blogs will not just be about my books or even writing in general. They will be about whatever suits my fancy--and yes, I'm sorry, but that may include politics from time to time. We live in an interestingly tempestuous time and as a writer I find it impossible to ignore the worldwide psycho-drama (and, at times, psycho-comedy) being played out before us on a virtual daily basis.