LAWYERS, MOBSTERS, AND A SOCIALITE MURDER SUSPECT: MANNING WOLFE'S DEAD BY PROXY
Manning Wolfe's series featuring Merit Bridges can be described as "Grisham lite.". That is not an insult. The books serve as entertaining looks at how civil law rubs against the criminal, leaning more on humor and character interaction than plot mechanics. With Dead By Proxy, she kicks off a new series that promises to be tougher and more scenario oriented while still carrying her already developed approach.
You know we are in new territory when our protagonist goes through many identies. He starts out with his real one, Byron Douglas, operating as a high priced New York criminal lawyer. His client is the dangerous and obviously guilty Irish mobster KIllian Tyrone. Forced by Tyrone to go to trail, Byron loses the case. Not the most understanding guy, his client puts his most feared enforcer, The Gaffer, after him. With little help from the feds, the only way out is to fake his death.
Taking a different name and using his poker skills, he makes his way to Houston Texas where he grew up. He seeks out an old friend, Quinton, who also practices law, for help. He learns Quinton went down a dark path and was killed in a drug related murder in Miami. He does meet up with Quinton's father, Judge Bell, who offers up a bold plan he'll assist him in. He will take on Quinton's identity, and hide in plain sight while practicing law in Houston.
With the judge pulling some strings, he sets his shingle up as Quinton Bell, doing some pro-bono work to clear his conscience. He soon lands a high profile murder case, defending beautiful socialite Joanne Wyatt. With the help of Dart, a gang member he got off who now works as his legman, he sets out to clear her name. However the case catches the attention of Tyrone. Soon all sides of the law are coming down on him.
M.K. Waller's review (www.kathywaller1.com) described the book as a game of "literary twister" and she's correct. It starts out as a crime thriller that slams into a legal one. The mash up allows the story to keep its narrative feet grounded while keeping the reader guessing as to what's coming around the corner, since the landscape if familiar but the terrain less so. The set up also injects some grittiness into the slicker second half.
The genre mix influences the plot and the plot influences the character, As things tighten on Quinton, he has less avenues to run down as he finds more opportunities in his life. Wolfe has us not only wondering how he will survive, but how he will live when he does.
Dead By Proxy proves to be a solid, entertaining weekend read. The characters pop and the world building within our familiar world is crisp and engaging. Call this one "legal pulp" or just call it fun.