Austinite Boyd Taylor’s ‘Necessities’ an engrossing crime series sequel

  • Kirkus Reviews
12:00 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017 Insight and Books
“Promise Me, Dad,” Joe Biden

In Boyd Taylor’s “Necessities,” a Texas lawyer comes to the aid of a war veteran who’s on trial for murder.

Reporter David Lewis, a double amputee since a street battle in Iraq, is pleasantly surprised by his run-in with Cordelia Lehrer. The two, who’d had a one-night stand in college, quickly reignite their intimacy. But there may be more to the reunion: Cordelia invites David to meet her father, Kingston, the prosperous owner of KL Media Group and its 50 daily newspapers. It’s apparent Daddy wants an heir, callously referring to his other married daughters as “barren.” David certainly fits the bill, with expertise in the operation of newspapers, and he and Cordelia are soon married and expecting. Just a couple of years later, however, David needs an attorney. He’s shot someone dead, or at least he thinks so, because he blacked out before seeing the lifeless body. He hires Donnie Ray Cuinn, and shortly thereafter, cops, doubting David’s claim of an accident, charge him with murder. Aware that the district attorney has David’s reputed motive, Donnie hopes a jury will believe the veteran truly suffers from PTSD. Though this is Donnie’s fourth appearance in Taylor’s (“The Monkey House,” 2015) series, he’s only in the novel’s latter half. The first half is David’s engrossing first-person narration, as he’s slowly drawn into the Lehrer family. There’s mystery even before the murder, like Cordelia’s agenda: Is the marriage for love or merely a business deal to produce an heir? Much of Donnie’s part involves questioning witnesses on the stand during the trial. The story turns into a courtroom drama, less gripping than David’s account but sporting rapid-fire dialogue exchanges from both the prosecutor’s side and Donnie’s. And while there’s little room for exploring Donnie’s personal life, his prior relationship with the DA makes for tense scenes in court. Taylor stamps his novel with a doozy of an ending.

“Necessities” is a sufficient legal tale augmented by a meticulous examination of the accused.

(Taylor will speak and sign copies of his book starting at 7 p.m. Jan. 5 at BookPeople. Free to attend; only books purchased at BookPeople are eligible for signing. Information:

Achievement, despair and the future

Former Vice President Joe Biden turns in an affecting memoir that recounts personal tragedies and political triumphs with “Promise Me, Dad.”

“The bigger the highs, the deeper the troughs.” So writes Biden (“Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics,” 2007) who, over a long career in politics, has seen plenty of both. On the positive side, he enumerates with pride and a certain wonkiness, are his achievements in law enforcement reform, health care, and foreign policy — achievements sometimes thwarted by the political opposition. As to the depths of despair, he had to endure the deaths of his first wife and baby daughter in a car accident and, later, that of a survivor of that crash, his son Beau, who died of a lingering, devastating cancer. A letter from Vicki Kennedy, Ted Kennedy’s widow, quoting her father-in-law on the sorrow of losing a child, provides a touch of inspiration in a narrative grown understandably somber; in it, Kennedy Sr. urged that, in time, “because there is a world to be lived in, you find yourself part of it, trying to accomplish something.” The promise Beau extracted before dying speaks to that effort to accomplish — including, in the past, advances in LGBT civil rights and, now, a new attention to corporate responsibility in the face of growing inequality. Putting on his old campaigner’s hat, he recounts a trope from the past that resounds in the present: “a secure and growing middle class is why America has had the most stable political democracy in the world. If we lose that … no amount of money will hold back the anger and the pitchforks.” Biden is discreet in naming names that others might revile, but he offers tantalizing hints that, following a conversation with President Barack Obama — not always an easy man to work with, he allows, but a supremely principled one — about what to do upon leaving office, his plans might just include a return to public life, a duty, he writes, that “makes me nostalgic for the future.”

Could this signal an opening salvo in the 2020 presidential campaign? Many readers will hope so.