Tag Archives: mystery

Review: The Night Lawyer (Alex Churchill)

This book could not decide what it wanted to be. There are three stories here: one is Sophie Angel, barrister, who works one night a week at a local paper to review the stories they’re about to post online. The rest of the time,she works on the defense side of the legal system. The second is a mystery surrounding Sophie’s past in the USSR, and the death of her uncle Kiril: her Russian father, a musician, defected while on tour, and her English mother, with Sophie, walked to the English Embassy in Moscow and left the country that way. The third is the well worn trope of a woman who marries a man (who cheated on his wife with her) who everyone but her knows is cheating on her, but she has trouble believing it.

Any one of these things would have been interesting – in fact, it would be great if the writing duo delved into the Russian story, because I’d read that in a heartbeat.

There are probably some spoilers in this, so if you want to read this, I’d skip to the bottom.

As it stands, we get a prologue that is a bit creepy, but not really necessary, in my opinion. The actual first chapters deal with Sophie turning down the defense of a violent rapist (and I suppose we’re supposed to believe that the rapist, who has escaped prison that day has turned up at the newspaper somehow, in that prologue). The next part deals with someone buying the paper where Sophie works as the night lawyer. The wife of the buyer is Russian, and there seems to be some history between her and Sophie, although Sophie has little memory of her time in Russia. It occurred to me that since we get only a couple of scenes at the paper that this whole paper thing and the buyout of it was done just to get these two characters together.

Lydia (the Russian wife) asks Sophie to defend a young man accused of rape. His mother, and the young man, of course say he is innocent, and he may very well be. This part of the book is heavily focused on the legal system in England, and it’s heavy on jargon from that system. If you don’t know what solicitors and barristers are, or what a dock is in a courtroom, you may get a little lost, but it’s still readable. Clearly, one (or both) of the writers has a great interest in the legal system and how it is (as in the US) heavily skewed against poor people.

Throughout the book, we get glimpses of her life with Theo, her husband. He’s always “working”, and when Sophie enters the dressing room to change into robes for court, other women look at her with pity. This reader spotted Theo as a cheat right off – after all, if someone cheats on their partner to be with you, they will most certainnly cheat on you to be with someone else. Sophie, though, waves it all away, even after finding a lipstick in Theo’s car on the floorboard. Of course he has an easy excuse for it, as he does every time she is passively questioning him about it. Ultimately, and thankfully, she finally gets a clue and kicks him to the curb – she leaves.

But, since she’s broke, and because she thinks this dude somehow means it when he says they should try again, she moves back into the house. She thinks she hears an argument, but is sleepy and ignores it. Then she wakes up, tells Theo there’s someone in the house, but of course he does not get up. She goes downstairs and the escaped, violent rapist is there to take her away. The fight scene there is pretty good, and it’s nice that she offs the bad guy – no thanks to Theo, who hid in the bathroom and dialed 999 (the British version of 911).

Sophie discovers she’s pregnant, but leaves Theo again anyway (hooray!). Lydia (remember her? The Russian wife of the buyer f the paper?) tells Sophie to come with her to Russia to look into the disappearance of her uncle Kiril. She does, and then, mystery solved by her memory of the time being teased out, she returns to London and decides she’s home. Presumably, she goes about her business from that moment forward.

The writing is fine, and the descriptions of he British legal system are interesting. There’s a lot of editorializing by the authors via Sophie about it. It’s an okay book – not great, but not unreadable.

I’d have liked it better had there been one story picked of these versus cramming three into it. Alas, that was not the case, and alas, this one didn’t do it for me. Your mileage may vary.

Two stars of five. Thanks to NetGalley and RedDoor Press for the reading copy.

Before She Was Helen – review

Solid four stars out of five. Warning: there is discussion of rape and a serial rapist, although not graphic.

Clemmie – or, as her neighbors know her, Helen – lives in a sleepy, sort-of retirement community called Sun City. Her next door neighbor Dom texts her every morning to let her know he’s ok. Except today: no text.

Clemmie has a key to Dom’s place – in case of emergency, and something her friends and neighbors do not know. She heads next door into Dom’s place, calling out for him. She doesn’t find him, but she does find a door in the garage that leads to the other attached villa, presumably owned by neighbors who are rarely seen.

Telling herself that she’s just checking for Dom, she enters the third (very empty, almost unlived-in) villa and sees a glass dragon sculpture that she thinks is so beautiful that she takes a picture and texts it to her nephew.

So begins Before She Was Helen, a character-driven mystery set in a limited community area.

Her text puts into a motion a grand mystery: the creator of the dragon is hunting for money stolen from him and tracks down Clemmie/Helen, Dom is missing, no one knows much of anything about the ghost neighbors, Clemmie’s friend Joyce is kicking out her boyfriend (who has been taking money from her checking account in bits and pieces), and all the other neighbors join in the fun when a body is found in Dom’s golf cart, in his garage.

There’s another story as well: Clemmie’s life before she became Helen, as the title suggests, in the 50s. It involves Clemmie being stalked and raped repeatedly by a man, her becoming pregnant tanks to her rapist, and giving up the child to an adoptive couple. When she moves from place to place, trying to escape him, he always finds where she is living and shows up. At one point, he rapes her roommate when he turns up but doesn’t find Clemmie. The rapist is later found dead. The case went cold in the past, and in the present, Clemmie’s nephew texts her that the case is being reopened, adding another worry to her pile.

The book moves fairly seamlessly between the present and the past, both eras containing complex mysteries to be solved: in the present, who among Clemmie’s neighbors are involved in drugs/dealing, and who killed the young man found in Dom’s garage? In the past, how did Clemmie finally escape, and who killed the stalker/rapist?

While none of the characters are very deeply presented beyond Clemmie, I still found it an enjoyable read and was wondering how all the pieces would be tied together, or indeed, if they could be. Answer: yes, they could be, and were.

As noted, this is a character-driven novel: there are no big action sequences or gory scenes beyond some blood in a knife fight that involves the artist and one of Clemmie’s neighbors. If you are looking or gunfights and foot (or golf cart) chases, you won’t find that here. But if you’re looking for a good read of how one woman reinvented herself and how she manages to get through the webs small town communities can weave, this is the book for you.

Thanks to NetGalley and Poisoned Pen Press for the advance reading copy.

A Matter of Will – book review

Thanks to NetGalley and Thomas&Mercer for the electronic advance copy. This book is slated for release this summer.

Before I go in, a side note: this is an uncorrected proof. I’m not sure if whoever edits these titles reads the feedback, but please, for the love of anything you hold holy, correct the instances of “shelf company” to “shell company”. I’ve never read anything else by this author, so have no comparisons to earlier works of his.

Will Matthews is a not-so-successful broker (or “wealth manager”) at a finance company – so unsuccessful that he gets dumped on by his boss on an almost daily basis and worries he will be fired at any moment. Enter Sam and Eve, who he meets at a hockey game. Before he knows what has hit him, Sam is sweeping Will off his feet, taking him to lavish dinners, tuxedo-required parties, and parking tens of millions of dollars with him for investing. He basically buys Will a ten million dollar apartment, and makes him sign off as a director of or participant in various shell companies.

Meanwhile, Gwen is a young attorney added to the team defending a Hollywood star, who has allegedly killed his wife. Will and Gwen meet up via a dating app, have a dinner, and another date. They wind up as a couple – it’s true love for both of them.

There’s no real way to go through the rest without spoilers, so I’ll leave it at: everything is not as it seems, and soon after that, Will and Gwen have to start thinking about their very survival, both professionally and personally.

The good: it’s easy enough to read. The author doesn’t wander off into incomprehensible jargon associated with his own profession (law) when some courtroom/lawyer scenes come up. Will is given a fairly good backstory. There’s some infodumping, given as dialogue instead of a wall of text.

The bad: I’m sorry to say I found it to be a weird mashup of The Firm and Wall Street and When Harry Met Sally. Will is so naive as to be implausible, and apparently it doesn’t sound any alarms to him that some random guy he meets wants to invest a fortune with him. .Even worse, the first 50% of the book is very dull throughout this. Not once does Will question anything, and the first half is just Will and Gwen going about their respective businesses.. It looks like the author couldn’t decide on what kind of book it should be, so included everything, and that swamped the entire book. Also: using the actual John Yoo in this? Not good.

The remainder of the book involves some murders, a bit of cat and mouse, and asks the reader to believe that the kingpin of a gigantic criminal organization would tell even the new nominal leader of it about plans, the evidence being held over their head, or allow that person to remain alive, knowing that person is not all in and is hesitant about roping in another young broker, among other things. We then get swept over once more to the legal bit playing out on Gwen’s side, which does nothing for the story. She, too, winds up appearing to be a tad too naive, and the ending is simply far too convenient, wrapping up all the details.

If this book were by an as yet unpublished author, and they submitted it as it is, that author would remain unpublished. It would be fine as a plane or beach read, but I would not recommend it.