A Texas attorney defends a 16-year-old cheerleader accused of patricide.
This 12th installment of Manchee’s (Deadly Dining, 2014, etc.) mystery series boomerangs to near the beginning of Stan Turner’s legal career in the early 1980s, when he worked as a solo litigator. Stan goes to court for a restraining order that Marjorie Monroe filed to keep her alcoholic husband, Frank, a successful real estate developer, away from their adoptive teenage daughter, Melody. Frank allegedly injured the girl during a fight he was having with Marjorie, who wants to leave him. Before divorce papers can be served to Frank, he ends up dead in his garage, but not from carbon monoxide, as was first assumed. Someone switched Frank’s blood thinner medication, which resulted in his death. Arrows point to Melody, the heir to Frank’s fortune. Marjorie also had motive and opportunity, as did Frank’s sister, Natalie, who barely tolerated him and with whom he shared a multimillion-dollar trust. Frank also recently screwed over the head of a rival building company. After Melody is charged with the killing, Stan agrees to represent her, despite his limited experience defending murder suspects. This thriller succeeds far better than the previous book in the series, in large part due to the concentration on a single case—although not a singular murder. The author’s experience as an attorney helps make the trial scenes both realistic and tense. But too much of the tale takes place in a courtroom; more action away from the legal proceedings would have been welcome in this disturbing story about a troubled family. And at over 400 pages, the book could have benefited from some streamlining. Many characters range from unlikable to unconscionable, but in Manchee’s Texas, women are universally attractive, which suits Stan, who is a bit of a horndog. He muses about a fellow attorney: “She was a very attractive woman and there was dangerous chemistry between us. If I hadn’t been married, we’d have been lovers.”
Readers’ blood may run cold while enjoying this taut murder mystery.