Legal thriller is a rewarding read

‘A Patent Lie’ by Paul Goldstein: Legal thriller is a rewarding read
12:00 AM CDT on Sunday, June 22, 2008
By ALAN CHEUSE / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News NPR commentator Alan Cheuse’s next novel, To Catch the Lightning, will be published in October.

John Grisham made the contemporary legal thriller into a best-selling genre. Paul Goldstein has transformed the genre into an art form.

A Patent Lie, the second novel from the New York transplant turned Californian, trumps Mr. Grisham in every way (character, setting, plot, the prose) and rewards readers who savor the drama of a high-value legal case heading into trial.

Mr. Goldstein’s protagonist is an intellectual property lawyer named Michael Seeley, a reformed alcoholic and former high-powered New York City corporate attorney. After the adventures he experienced in Mr. Goldstein’s first novel, Errors and Omissions, he has retreated to his native Buffalo, N.Y., and the consolation of a small legal practice. Then his only sibling, a doctor and medical adviser to a Northern California biotech firm, shows up at his office to hire him as main counsel for a federal patent law case. The former lead counsel has somewhat inconveniently committed suicide, so Seeley puts his solitude and his doubts about the case behind him and flies west.

At issue is a charge of patent infringement on the American company’s AIDS vaccine by a huge European conglomerate. Seeley’s preparation for the trial and the trial itself form the heart of the skillful narrative, moving from jury selection to final judgment in straightforward fashion. Even novices at the law will be able to understand it without the author sacrificing any of the intellectual intricacies of the case.

But this is more than just a story about procedure. Seeley is hardly coldblooded. He’s able to fight his thirst for alcohol, but lets sympathy get the best of him when the former counsel’s widow asks him to help prove that her husband, the suicide, was murdered. Seeley also succumbs to the attractions of a somewhat reluctant potential witness, a beautiful Chinese scientist whose work on the AIDS vaccine eventually takes center stage in the plot. And when it comes to unraveling the layers of truth in this seemingly simple case, there’s no stopping him.

And no stopping the reader either. I read the book nearly in one sitting on a westbound transcontinental flight. I wish the flight had been longer.

NPR commentator Alan Cheuse’s next novel, To Catch the Lightning, will be published in October.
A Patent Lie
Paul Goldstein
(Doubleday, $24.95)