BOOK REVIEW: 'Lion Plays Rough': Continuing the Saga of the Maxwell Brothers in Gritty Oakland

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen

Lachlan Smith has created a wonderfully readable pair of brothers in Teddy and Leo Maxwell, two lawyers practicing in Oakland, California. In last year's debut novel, "Bear Is Broken", we learned about the brothers and how Leo begins to learn how to practice law when his brother Teddy is shot in the head, disabling him. (See below for link to my review.)

In "Lion Plays Rough" (Mysterious Press, 254 pages, $24.00) Leo has been hired by  Jeanie, Teddy's ex-wife, and is trying his best to latch on to a big case that will make his reputation. Teddy has undergone six months of rehabilitation, after spending months in the hospital. The once mighty Teddy is living with Leo and is dependent on him. He can't practice law, but he's still the big brother Leo looks up to.

BOOK REVIEW: 'Lion Plays Rough': Continuing the Saga of the Maxwell Brothers in Gritty Oakland

Out on his bicycle one day in Marin County, north of San Francisco, Leo's almost run over by a beautiful woman in a convertible. He's mostly unharmed, but his bike is a wreck. The woman says she's Lavinia Martin and promises to pay Leo for repairs to his damaged bike. She takes his card after Leo explains what he does for a living.

Leo's challenges begin when Lavinia shows up at 580 Grand and hires Leo to represent her brother on a murder charge. Without seeing the brother, Leo takes the case…Big mistake! 

As he investigates the case, which involves serious corruption in the Oakland Police Department, he discovers that Lavinia's "brother" -- if indeed he is -- is represented by Nikki Matson, one of Oakland's most infamous gangland lawyers. When Leo meets his  "client" he's informed that the man doesn't have a sister named Lavinia Martin -- he says he doesn't have a sister at all! Leo finds himself caught between the proverbial rock -- the D.A. and the cops -- and the hard place, Oakland's criminal element.

Since so much of the book is a spoiler, I won't reveal the perils that Leo Maxwell faces, other than to say that real-life lawyers are unlikely to face them. But this is Oakland, Alameda County, California, where the unexpected can turn up to bite you on the butt.

"Lion Plays Rough" is as good as "Bear Is Broken," which is high praise indeed because I liked that novel and praised it in my review. I don't think the second novel will be the last we'll see of Leo, Teddy and Jeanie.

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Link to Lachlan Smith's " Bear Is Broken" reviewed by me on Feb. 6, 2013:

Lachlan Smith
Lachlan Smith

About the Author

Lachlan Smith was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, and received an MFA from Cornell. He earned his law degree from UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall. His fiction has appeared in the Best New American Voices series. In addition to writing novels, he is an attorney practicing in the area of civil rights and employment law. His website:

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