Written with authority, Matthews’ auspicious debut courtroom drama finds an ethically compromised attorney taking a murder case nobody wants and a client nobody trusts.
Raymond Jackson is a once-successful South Carolina real estate lawyer whose practice went bust with the housing market. He has an intriguing back story: his mother, a prominent divorce attorney, recently died, and after more than a decade, he is still haunted by his sister’s still-unsolved disappearance. Hit with ethics and malpractice complaints, Jackson is forced to take several unwanted cases off the public defender’s hands. One is a murder case, Jackson’s first, that involves a man charged with killing a pregnant stripper. Jackson is reunited with his ex-girlfriend Jennifer, the new treasurer at his church, when Gethsemane Gospel Baptist Church comes under investigation for unspecified suspicions about the operation of its bingo games, “the most successful in the state.” As the parallel storylines converge and the body count grows, Jackson finds himself framed for murder as the trial approaches. The story unfolds at a deliberate pace, which may frustrate more action-oriented readers. In particular, things bog down a bit in the climactic trial, in which the narrative repeats information covered earlier in the book. Two prominent characters will instantly raise red flags for readers primed to suspect everyone, especially those considered pillars of the community, but Matthews does have a satisfying twist or two in store as he effectively doles out information that keeps the pages turning. Early on, Jackson flirts with contempt during an increasingly hostile cross-examination of a police officer. “We have a history,” Ray explains to his client. Shortly after, Jackson ruminates, “I know of two investigations he screwed up, this one and my sister’s.” Refreshingly, dialogue doesn’t strain while reaching a hard boil.
A satisfying, well-plotted mystery that should please the court.