Adult Fiction Books contemporary Crime fiction mystery suspense thriller

“Thirteen” by Steve Cavanagh: A murder mystery about killing the American dream

Steve Cavanagh’s Thirteen is the best court room drama novel that I have read. It’s a powerful story, and the first line of the blurb had me hooked. A serial killer sitting on the jury watching the crime he committed get put on someone else? It doesn’t get more inventive and creative than that.

This page-turner is unlike anything I’ve ever read – with incredible pace and unexpected twists and turns. Thirteen is not a book to miss out on.

The serial killer isn’t on trial. He’s on the jury.

Hollywood actor Robert Soloman stands accused of the brutal stabbings of his wife and her lover, but he is desperately pleading that he had nothing to do with it. This is the trial of the century, and the defence want Eddie Flynn on their team.

The biggest case Eddie has ever tried before, he decides to take it on despite the overwhelming evidence that Robert is guilty. As the trial starts, Eddie becomes sure of Robert’s innocence, but there’s something else he is even more sure of – that there is something sinister going on in the jury box.

Because of this, he is forced to ask: what if the killer isn’t on the stand? What if he’s on the jury?

Thirteen sat on my to-read shelf for a while, and I’m actually slightly annoyed it took me so long to read it because the story is absolutely a hidden gem. It’s witty, it’s incredibly clever, and Eddie Flynn is such an interesting character – as a previous conman, he sees thing differently from the way other lawyers do. It makes him unprecedented. It gives him an edge – especially when his opponents underestimate him.

But that’s also his biggest advantage – he’s the one they don’t see coming.

Cavanagh’s story is much more than that though. He weaves this powerful theme of justice throughout the entire story, and builds such a powerful and twisted background to the serial killer. And he does so in a way that you almost (but not quite) sympathise with him. He’s had a hard life, he’s got a tough background. Combined with his mental health and psychopathic tendencies and inability to get hurt, it makes for the perfect killer.

Kane, the murderer, kills for a very specific purpose, for a very specific reason, and that is to destroy the image and façade of the American Dream.

In short, the American Dream is the belief that anyone, regardless of who they are, where they’re from, what class they’re born into, or what their race is, can have their own success, and upward mobility is possible for everyone through hard work and sacrifice, as opposed to chance.

With Kane’s background, he saw how hard his mum worked and never managed to escape the noose of poverty. Neither did he, for the most part. So he grew up to believe the American Dream wasn’t a dream at all – so far out of almost everyone’s grasp that it’s even a stretch to call it a dream.

Cleverly, Cavanagh mirrors Kane’s predicament with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby – a story famous for it’s connection with the American Dream. In Fitzgerald’s novel, Gatsby remains the man with an “extraordinary gift for hope” in believing in Daisy – which is his American Dream. This woman is his life, forever reaching out to the green light and being so close that he can hardly fail to grasp it. Close, but not close enough.

But in the end, Gatsby’s dream is ruined by the unworthiness of it’s object, i.e., Daisy herself. Just as Kane sees the American dream itself is ruined by the unworthiness of its object – money and pleasure.

Gatsby longs to re-create a vanished past — his time in Louisville with Daisy — but unlike his efforts and never-ending hope, Kane simply sees those fruitlessly seeking a bygone era in which their dreams had value, a time that no longer exists. When Gatsby’s dream crumbles, all that is left for him is to die. In this way, when people chase the so-called American Dream, all Kane sees is pain.

It’s this loathing, this hatred, for those who he sees as having ‘got lucky’ and have their shot, that drives him and motivates him and his killings.

Cavanagh writes:

“He’d hated many things: the lies that the media spread, the idea that people could better themselves, and most of all those who got lucky and were able to change their lives. Kane hadn’t been so lucky. Neither had his mother. Hate was a part of it. Revenge, maybe. Mostly, he felt pity. Pity for the poor souls who thought money, or family, or opportunity, or even love could change anything. It was all a lie. To Kane, this was the great American lie.
Kane knew the truth. There was no dream. There was no change. There was only pain.”

Thirteen, Steve Cavanagh

Eddie Flynn is the character of hope. The man who stands up to protect those who have hurt, and lost. The innocent and wrongly accused. A conman who turned things around and made himself into a top lawyer through hard work and taking a tough road. In him, we see that the American Dream does still exist. In him, we see that Gatsby was not wrong to hope.

And it reminds us to always do the same.

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