July 20 2011 12:00 AM

MSU alum cooks up a fine courtroom drama


East Lansing author R. Charles McLravy knows exactly how
many yellow legal pads it will take him to write his next mystery.
Writing in longhand might be a lost art, but McLravy figures he filled
about twice as many of the ubiquitous pads as he needed to for his first
mystery, “The Fool’s Errand.”

“My publisher had me cut and cut until I told her, ‘Any
more, and it will be a haiku,’” McLravy said. “I had written several
screenplays, and I knew exactly how long those needed to be. But I had
no idea how many legal pads it took for a 300-page mystery.”

He won’t make that mistake twice — and that may be the
only error he made in his clever legal thriller about a brilliant but
down-on-his-luck attorney, Burr Lafayette, who takes on a murder case at
the bequest of an old girlfriend.

On the big screen you would know right away that a woman
with “jet black hair” and “pouty wine-red lips” who tracks a guy down in
a duck blind is not a good omen.

McLravy slowly eases you into the complex case as
Lafayette is roused from a quiet hunting date with his trusty dog, a
yellow lab named Zeke. Then the author takes you on a heck of a ride,
both literally and figuratively, as Lafayette’s client is arrested in
Grosse Pointe for the 6-year-old murder of his wife — which was once
deemed an accidental shooting — and hauled up north to Petoskey, where
most of the action takes place.

The author calls his defense attorney
“somewhat of an idiot savant” when it comes to his courtroom skills; his
personal life is the same, sans that “savant” qualifier. 

That McLravy seems comfortable portraying the small town
scenes of Petoskey and Harbor Springs should come as no surprise:
McLravy has a home in Harbor Springs.

“I’m intimately aware of the settings and I wanted to show
what a quirky place it could be, while showing the contrast between
Harbor Springs and Petoskey,” he said.

Although he nails the up-north atmosphere, McLravy doesn’t
let that aspect get in the way of spinning a great mystery that
combines outstanding courtroom scenes with revelation after revelation
that proves nothing is as it seems.

The book opens during the Christmas
holidays, and McLravy nicely interjects some funny Christmas tree
decorating scenes. It’s a nice, homey touch, one of many that make the
book fun to read as well as suspenseful.

At first, Lafayette thinks client Frank Tavohnen is being
railroaded by the local prosecutor, a political opportunist who wants to
make a name for himself. We soon learn there may be something in the
accidental shooting that points to murder. 

Although McLravy is an attorney, he admits to practicing
very little after his graduation from the University of Michigan Law

Nevertheless, this fan of such courtroom dramas as
“Anatomy of a Murder” and “Presumed Innocent” remains fascinated by the
law. “The law gets a lot of criticism,” he said. “But it is only a
reflection of our own morality.” 

This concept gets a workout in the book, as Lafayette
realizes that he may be defending a murderer and that his ex-girlfriend
(who is also the sister of the late wife) isn’t telling him everything
she knows.

The drama and excitement McLravy creates in the courtroom
scenes attest to that, and it’s clear that is where he is at his best.
The courtroom machinations and twists in “Errand” will keep your
interest piqued and the outcome in doubt, even after the jury brings in a

“I enjoy writing about Burr in the courtroom and outdoors, but I struggled with the investigation,” McLravy said.

The author is a graduate of Waverly High School and Michigan State University, where he majored in English and finance.

“My parents insisted I have a trade,” he said.

R. Charles McLravy
Book signing
7 p.m. Wednesday, July 27
Schuler Books & Music
1982 Grand River Ave., Okemos
(517) 349-8840