Defender of the Innocent: The Casebook of Martin Ehrengraf
by Lawrence Block
Cover Artist: Phil Parks
Review by Mario Guslandi
Subterranean Press Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781596066670
Date: 30 September 2014 List Price $30.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Perhaps not one of the most significant characters created by Lawrence Block, defense attorney Martin E. Ehrengraf has, however, his own quiet charm and very unusual features. He seldom appears in court, especially because his clients are, by definition, innocent, even when they are absolutely convinced of their guilt of the crimes they are charged with. As a matter of fact Ehrengraf is always able to demonstrate their innocence and exonerate them before the trial, by discovering (or fabricating) evidence that someone else has committed the deed.
Another interesting aspect of the attorney's attitude is that his fees are incredibly high but he only exacts payment if the client is acquitted, wheres if found guilty he would not ask for a single cent. Being so strongly motivated, no wonder Ehrengraf always manages to prove beyond doubt that the defendant has a right to walk free because somebody else is the actual murderer.
Despite his apparently greedy nature the attorney is a man of taste, always immaculately dressed, and a man of education, frequently quoting from poetry.
The present volume from Subterranean Press collects twelve stories featuring Ehrengraf's adventures -- eleven previously appeared in print and one never published before. The stories show Ehrengraf in action under various circumstances.
In the very first episode ("The Ehrengraf Defense") our hero actually hints at his unhorthodox ways to solve the case. But, subsequently he becomes more evasive about his methods, for instance when defending a man accused of killing his wife, he turns the facts in favor of the client taking advantage of a peculiar menage ("The Ehrengraf Appoinment").
In another story the attorney very ingeniously manages to have his attractive female client exonerated and to safely secure his fee ("The Ehrengraf Alternative"). Similarly a complex case of fatal poisoning is brilliantly solved and two men are easily acquitted ("Nostrum").
In "The Ehrengraf Reverse", inspired by a football strategy, our man saves a famous player accused of murdering his spouse. In "The Ehrengraf Settlement", the attorney for once has to recognize that his client is not innocent but successfully finds a solution, while also doing a great favor to the man's gorgeous and unhappy wife.
The only unpublished story, "The Ehrengraf Fandango", is actually one of the more delightful. Therein Ehrengraf solves a complex case, apparently of hypnotism, involving two beautiful women whose gratitude will be nicely demonstrated.
All in all a very entertaining collection of masterly told stories. My advice, however, is to read them a few at the time or you might find them a bit repetitive.