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Murder once again conceals a host of even dirtier secrets in this latest case for Oregon attorney Barbara Holloway (Malice Prepense, 1996, etc.). Seventeen years after he returned to his teenaged wife Maggie only to beat and rape her and abandon her and her baby again, Mitch Arno has come back once more. But this time he’s the one who’s beaten. Hours after he blusters his way back into Maggie Folsum’s life, Mitch is dead, tortured to death, presumably, by someone who was interested in the contents of the suitcase ($$$$) and briefcase (something potentially even more valuable) that he brought all the way from Miami to Eugene. Barbara, agreeing to act for Maggie, maneuvers adroitly among Russ Major (the software developer whose property is in the briefcase), R.M. Palmer (the urbane businessman who’s had Major’s property hijacked), and the authorities (who would impound the money as part of Mitch’s estate if they knew the story behind it), winning a belated $210,000 in child support for her client by playing the players off against each other. Meantime, though, the clueless D.A. arrests Mitch’s brother Ray for his murder, and Barbara, who can’t defend Ray because of looming conflicts of interest, has to watch from the sidelines while a spineless lawyer runs his case into the ground. Anybody who’s not with the justice system will see where the guilt lies hundreds of pages in advance; Barbara’s challenge here instead is to puncture the airtight case against Ray Arno, rout the apparently unstoppable forces of evil, and keep her father and partner Frank and her lover John Mureau from danger. She manages all this and more with the barely-legal dexterity of the early Perry Mason. Despite the often faceless characters—Ray’s wife, for instance, is a cipher, and Ray himself barely more—Wilhelm’s skill in spinning out endless complications while keeping every subplot perfectly clear makes this legal thriller her best in years.

Pub Date: Feb. 23rd, 1999
ISBN: 0-312-19854-X
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 1999


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