by Paul Goldstein; New York, Doubleday, 2006, 320 pages, $24.95
Dr. Recupero is clinical professor of psychiatry at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and president and chief executive officer of Butler Hospital, Providence, Rhode Island.
In this legal thriller by first-time novelist and intellectual property law expert Paul Goldstein, we meet Michael Seeley, protagonist of Errors and Omissions, when the author opens with "The worst part of being drunk before breakfast is the hangover that returns before noon." Seeley is an artists' rights lawyer whose successful career seems to be next on the list of casualties in the war between the bottle and man. Goldstein wastes no time in drawing the reader in to witness the spectacle of Seeley's drunken misbehavior in a judge's chambers, followed by a glimpse into his failing marriage and floundering career. His partners give him a humiliating ultimatum: take a case he doesn't want or lose his job. Seeley takes the case but stops short of agreeing to sign a fraudulent opinion.
The novel is a suspense-driven mystery with a strong film-noir feel, somewhat far-fetched in its premise but well suited to the Hollywood setting where much of the action takes place. Goldstein weaves a number of interesting subplots into the story, including the Communist blacklist in the mid-20th century and its impact on Hollywood, the Nazis, and the cutthroat code of modern corporate politics. This book has all of the elements of a well-crafted mystery except for a sympathetic main character.
Seeley's alcoholism may be one of the central themes in the plot, but at times it seems superficial. One understands why the author would need his main character to remain sober throughout much of the story; it's hard to play detective or to conduct business while drunk. However, the author has not taken adequate time to give some much-needed depth to Seeley's character. As a consequence, he seems to be a caricature of a hero with an Achilles' heel. Other characters are often used as shallow "bad guys" who are all out to get him, whether by humiliating him through his alcoholism or by tempting him to give up sobriety—one character even refuses to conduct business with Seeley unless he shares a drink with the man. Such moments often seem out of sync with the other characters' roles in the book. Undoubtedly, this is often how Seeley—who comes across as rather narcissistic and passive-aggressive—sees the world: he is the victim/hero, and the others are his tormentors, who secretly delight in his failure.
Toward the end of the novel, the narrative waxes philosophically: "How little we know about the motives of those we would let control us … the long line of … oppressors, real and imagined. Our ignorance gives them a power over our lives that none of them would even dream of; our attempts to undermine their authority work only to enhance it … . We are victims of victims." Goldstein should have spent the time to elaborate on these themes more clearly throughout the story!
Goldstein is at work on his next novel featuring Michael Seeley. One hopes that next time, Seeley might have more insight into the difference between abstinence and sobriety.