In McCarty’s (Jonathan’s Travails, 2012) legal thriller, a retired California attorney tries to settle a murdered man’s vast estate, but a trio of avaricious lawyers stands in his way.
Austin Wells is done with legal work, so he’s reluctant to help former girlfriend Adele Ogden after an anonymous caller tells her that her brother Frankie’s been killed in Mexico. Nevertheless, he travels to Ensenada with Adele and identifies Frankie’s body, the throat slit. Back in the U.S., a law firm has already searched the dead man’s home and claims to have found a will that leaves Frankie’s wealth to his boyfriend, Nate, and the Catholic Church. Austin is skeptical of the lawyers—one of them raided Frankie’s safety deposit box without first informing Adele—but he insists Adele hire another attorney because Austin isn’t a probate lawyer. Adele, however, doesn’t immediately take his advice, and Austin, it seems, is stuck arguing a case against a group of lawyers whose greed is boundless. Despite murder as its starting point, McCarty’s novel centers on Austin’s legal struggle; his primary battle is trying to prove that the will discovered by the firm isn’t valid. He’s faced with other obstacles as well, the most intriguing being the lawyers Austin hires for assistance who turn out to be just as greedy as the opposing counsel. Interestingly, the murder barely qualifies as a subplot; even Adele, who was understandably upset when her brother’s death was confirmed, isn’t invested in learning who killed Frankie or why. Yet readers won’t care: Frankie is the story’s most unsympathetic character, much more unscrupulous than any of the attorneys and doing at least a few things that may make the majority of readers want to take a shower. Austin is an imposing protagonist, formidable in the courtroom even if he’s only making a motion. It’s disappointing that his story is interrupted by a flashback that follows Frankie and others for nearly half the novel. Regardless of how slimy Frankie could be, his story is utterly fascinating, as he amasses a fortune in Europe and countless reasons for any number of people to want him dead. The ending, thankfully, steers clear of a superficial wrap-up, instead opting to leave behind a smoldering legal battlefield.
A solid thriller at its best in lawyer mode.