Reviews by L. J. Roberts


SHELDON SIEGEL – The Dreamer. Mike Daley/Rosie Fernandez #11. Sheldon M. Siegel, Inc., hardcover/softcover, March 2020. Setting: Contemporary San Francisco.

First Sentence: The Honorable Elizabeth McDaniel glanced at her watch, rested her chin in her palm, and spoke to me in a world-weary tone still bearing a trace of her native Alabama.

   Mercedes “Mercy” Tejada is a Dreamer who was brought to the United States as a baby. Now she’s accused of murdering her boss, celebrity chef and James Beard Award recipient, Carlos Cruz. Carlos was known for sexually harassing his female staff, particularly Mercy. Now, he is dead in an alley, Mercy kneeling over him, and her prints on the knife next to him. San Francisco Public Defenders Rosie and Mike are against the clock to prove Mercy innocent, and to keep her, and her family, from being deported.

   Siegel begins with an amusing vignette that pleases and establishes Mike Daley as a sharp, clever, and well-established lawyer. The way in which we meet the others in Mike’s life, especially his ex-wife and boss, Rosie Fernandez, is handled succinctly, but with clarity.

   A murder case is always the perfect base for a legal mystery. Add the element of a Dreamer with an undocumented mother, and the level of suspense immediately escalates. The decision of Rose to be the lead attorney, with Mike as second chair, makes one smile.

   Siegel excels at throwing back the cover on the legal system. He shows just how unjust justice can be, especially if one is a woman, a person of color, and undocumented. Siegel takes on the issue of undocumented workers. What is nice is that the story addresses the issue from a moral perspective, rather than a political one.

   Reading about a city one knows well always adds a personal touch. However, even when it is a city unknown to the reader, some things have become sadly universal in urban areas— “A homeless man asked me for change. A man in a Warriors jersey offered me a fentanyl. A woman in a halter top asked me if I was looking for a date.”

   There is an excellent twist and good questions raised during the investigation. One doesn’t normally think of the initial, information-gathering phase of a case as being suspenseful. Under Siegel’s deft hand, it is.

   It may be a classic trope, but it is always interesting to have a victim everyone wants to kill. But watching Rosie and Mike prepare a case with no other suspects, and no witnesses, based on a defense of SODDI (“some other dude did it”), and with the prosecution not meeting the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt makes things all the more engrossing.

   The Dreamer has a major plot twist and a very satisfying affirmation at the end. Siegel is an under-appreciated author who writes excellent legal procedurals.

Rating: Very Good.