Washington, D.C. shamus Dana Cutler (Capitol Murder, 2012, etc.) goes up against an impossibly clever killer: an amateur magician who’s also a member of the bar.
The legal eagles who find Charles Benedict intelligent and charming would undoubtedly be surprised to know that he’s also a stone-cold killer who doesn’t flinch from liquidating the occasional thorn in the side of his associate Nikolai Orlansky, a pillar of the Russian Mafia. Fresh from his latest such favor for Orlansky, Benedict decides that it would be fun to have sex with Carrie Blair, a narcotics prosecutor who’s having another quarrel with her much older husband, Horace, a wealthy businessman. So he drugs her, takes her home, drugs her again, has his way with her and then demands $250,000 for suppressing the evidence that she’s violated her prenup. Alas, their negotiating session ends with Carrie’s death, and now Benedict, who never planned this murder, realizes that he’ll have to do some fancy footwork indeed if he’s to avoid serious jail time. But great illusionists are also great improvisers, and soon enough, Benedict has not only framed Horace very convincingly for his wife’s murder, but has also gotten Horace to hire him as his defense attorney. He’ll get away with his crime scot-free unless Detective Frank Santoro, of the Lee County police, joins forces with Dana, back in town after a wild goose chase after the priceless and totally fictitious Ottoman Scepter, to take equally resourceful measures against him. They do, he’s trapped, and then the tale is over.
Margolin presents another triumph of inventive plotting over paper-thin characterization, flat prose and a wholesale departure from realism. The result is on a par with an especially good episode of Columbo.