The third themed anthology from the Mystery Writers of America (Death Do Us Part, 2006, etc.) offers a collection of mostly new tales of legal intrigue memorable for their variety of approaches to the formula.
The most surprising feature of courtroom drama is how many different kinds of courtrooms can be involved. For Jo Dereske, the venue is a parole hearing; for Kate Gallison, it’s the Salem witch trials; for John Walter Putre, it’s an ecclesiastical trial for heresy. Phyllis Cohen, Anita Page, Joseph Wallace and Angela Zeman all present rough justice outside the courtroom, and officers of the court turn out to have feet of clay in stories by Edward D. Hoch, Joel Goldman, Eileen Dunbaugh, Barbara Parker, Twist Phelan and especially S.J. Rozan. James Grippando provides the most original premise: a civil suit brought by viatical investors when the holder of the life-insurance policy they’ve bought at a discount turns out not to be fatally ill after all. Paul Levine covers the most ground, veering from domestic comedy to Hitchcockian horror in nine pages. Leigh Lundin’s examination of euthanasia is the most touching entry. The stories by Daniel J. Hale and Charlie Drees have multiple twists; Morley Swingle delivers a single well-planned twist; Diana Hansen-Young’s twist comes a little too soon; and Michele Martínez and editor Fairstein, in the only reprint, seem to get by with no twists at all.
No new classics, but plenty of evidence why the formula continues to hook readers.