THE GRAY DRAKE by Charles Cutter


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In Cutter’s (The Pink Pony, 2015) legal thriller, a Michigan woman is charged with murdering her husband a year after his apparently accidental death.

In 1990, Burr Lafayette is a commercial litigator, but he willingly takes a criminal case, as he has to pay the mortgage on his rundown East Lansing, Michigan, office building. His new client is Lizzie Shepherd, whose husband, Quinn, died by drowning a year ago. Lizzie’s under arrest for murder, however, as cops claim that she actually killed Quinn with a canoe paddle. A woman named Margaret Winston recently discovered the paddle, along with apparent evidence that it’s the murder weapon. Prosecutor John Cullen has a strong case; there are rumors that Quinn had been unfaithful to Lizzie, seemingly corroborated by eyewitness accounts of a confrontation between Lizzie and an unknown woman sitting with Quinn in a bar. Burr has his work cut out for him—particularly when it turns that Lizzie is withholding information from him, which leads to more than one surprise in the courtroom. Still, the lawyer is determined to prove that Quinn’s death was indeed an accident, or that someone other than Lizzie killed him. The silver-tongued attorney’s best bet is to extract information from uncooperative and/or deceitful witnesses on the stand. This is the second novel featuring Burr, who repeatedly displays his legal aptitude here. The realistic but entertaining story takes readers through various battles of wits, such as an evidentiary hearing and jury selection, as well as Burr’s fight against a request for exhumation of Quinn’s body. Even when he stumbles in the courtroom, he finds a way to recover. The mystery, meanwhile, is genuinely engrossing; readers, like Burr, may suspect that Lizzie really did kill her husband. The best secondary characters are those in Burr’s corner, including his legal assistant Eve McGinty; law partner Jacob Wertheim; and loyal dog, Zeke. Although a few boating scenes are strikingly detailed, it’s Cutter’s razor-sharp dialogue in the courtroom that’s truly unforgettable.

A smashing murder mystery featuring a quick-witted protagonist.

Publisher: Kurti Publishing
Program: Kirkus Indie
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