April 06--SLEIGHT OF HAND
$26.99, 320 pages
Charles Benedict has a favorite magic trick. Look, he says, nothing up my sleeves. Then, abra-cadaver, he whips out a large hunting knife, drives it into the hapless victim's heart, and another body drops.
In Portland writer Phillip Margolin's latest suspense thriller, "Sleight of Hand," Benedict is a dabbling magician and full-time attorney specializing in criminal defense. He's considered brilliant, but his cases aren't always won in the courtroom. Pesky evidence (and witnesses) has a way of disappearing.
"Benedict was thought of as a high-priced hired gun who had flunked his ethics course in law school." No one could ever prove his misdeeds, "but a rank smell wafted over many of Benedict's cases."
Readers, right from the start, are under no illusion what's stinking up the place.
Benedict is only part of this court-and-dagger tale. The fast-paced page turner slips from coast to coast with stories spooling out at a don't-blink pace.
Back in action in this stand-alone novel is Dana Cutler, the quick-witted, swift-kicking, fast-punching private investigator from Margolin's recent Washington Trilogy ("Executive Privilege," "Supreme Justice" and "Capitol Murder").
At the beginning of "Sleight of Hand," a enigmatic woman dispatches Dana to the West Coast, to the mysterious Isla de Muerta (Island of Death), in search of the long-lost, solid-gold Ottoman scepter. The mission quickly goes wild, with a dark and stormy night, shots ringing out and shady, eccentric characters straight out of a Dashiell Hammett/Raymond Chandler yarn.
Meanwhile, back on the East Coast, in the D.C. area, an old locksmith's body is found dumped in a field and prosecutor Carrie Blair has gone missing. The gorgeous young wife of kazillionaire industrialist Horace Blair was poised to collect a bundle from a prenup agreement tied to the marriage lasting 10 years. The prenup would have paid out $20 million the week she disappeared.
Foul play is suspected, with Horace quickly becoming suspect No. 1 -- especially when the evidence begins popping up. An anonymous tip leads police to Horace's Bentley, where a blood smear, blond hairs and the .38 that had killed Carrie are found in the trunk.
Horace calls in Benedict -- not knowing what the reader knows, which is that Benedict is the one who killed Carrie. He's set up Horace to take the fall and plans to collect a hefty fee along the way.
What is the connection between the dead prosecutor, locksmith and missing scepter? Dana figures out the link and jumps in to help police detectives try to beat the conniving killer Benedict at his own game. Soon more than just Horace's life is at risk.
Margolin -- who has 16 New York Times best-sellers -- keeps the plot hopping with reliable pacing and plot twists.
-- Peggy McMullen
Copyright 2013 - The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.