Historical Mystery THE MITFORD TRIAL
January 25, 2021

Book Review

A Matter of Life and Death

Phillip Margolin

Attorney-turned-author, Phillip Margolin, returns with his fourth book in the Robin Lockwood series. And this time Robin is faced with a murder trial that carries the distinct possibility of a death sentence.

A real page turner that gives us down-and-out Joe Lattimore, reduced to living in a tent city in Portland, OR, with his wife and infant daughter. Things appear desperate for this former boxer whose temper kept him from holding a job as a cook after his boxing days were over. He has no job, no prospects, and no way to provide for his family, until one night a man recognizes him from his boxing days and offers him the chance to make $300 in an illegal no-holds barred fight.

Joe agrees and the action picks up. He’s  soon whisked away to a secret location where he matches against an obviously impaired opponent. The crowd wants blood, and shortly Joe is pummeling this opponent to the point where he has to stop because the other man is seriously hurt. More than hurt–Joe’s opponent is dead, and Joe is quickly hustled away.

Things go downhill from there. Joe burgles a home to steal the jewelry from a safe. When he gets inside, he sees a dead body and runs away, but his fingerprints are in the house. To make things worse, the decedent is the wife of a rather unlikeable judge.

Robin Lockwood, a private practitioner, agrees to handle the case and is soon plunged into an underworld of violence and crime while hoping to find out what really happened and track the true killer.

As a former attorney I’m always drawn to books written by other attorneys. What’s more, this book is lean in all the right ways: almost devoid of unnecessary prose, and lean on all the typical trial preparation, motions, investigations, and shoddy police work in order to quickly get us to the most important parts of the story.

This is a fast-paced and action-packed story that, while sparse on legal details, has enough legal and investigative insights to make a plausible and successful mystery. The pages seem to fly by as we follow Lattimore, Lockwood, prostitutes, judges, bikers, and gangsters to a breathless conclusion.

Thanks to NetGalley, St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books for this free copy in return for an honest review.

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