Not every first-time author would try building a legal thriller out of the intricacies of intellectual property law, but law professor Paul Goldstein gives it a square shot with the Hollywood mystery Errors And Omissions. Goldstein's hero is Michael Seeley, a top New York attorney who specializes in defending artists and drinking himself to death. As the book begins, he's losing clients and about to be disbarred for showing up to court drunk and insulting a judge. Seeley's firm offers to help straighten him out if he'll author an opinion stating that United Pictures owns the rights to all the characters in Spykiller, a multibillion-dollar action franchise based on a scrappy genre film written in the contractually vague days of the studio system. While looking for reasons not to do it, Seeley uncovers a decades-old conspiracy involving a blacklisted writer and a Nazi collaborator, and soon, the people he talks to start turning up dead.
Errors And Omissions operates on three levels. At its best, it's a think piece about the meaning of intellectual property and the responsibilities that go along with it. Throughout the book, Goldstein has his characters bat around strong arguments for and against artists' rights, and when they really get cooking, Goldstein makes his life's work seem as exciting as he must think it is. Then he undercuts himself with his attempt at thrills. Most of the book's action sequences consist of two characters filling in the details of the story for each other, while one of them acts vaguely threatening. Practically the last third of the novel is one extended "detective in the drawing room" scene, stretched out over half a dozen European locations.
Still, there's something special about Seeley, a different kind of lawyer than the ones that usually appear in books like this. He's brasher, more confident, and more willfully self-destructive. And Errors And Omissions resonates on its third level, which details what it's like for a man to realize he's an alcoholic. As Seeley tries to track down Spykiller's author without taking a drink, the whole novel becomes like an alcoholic's nightmare, right down to the ending, which has the hero stuck in the middle of Oktoberfest, surrounded by beer he can't allow himself to taste.