A Matter of Life and Death by Phillip Margolin

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

Attorney turned author, Phillip Margolin, returns with his 4th book in the Robin Lockwood series, and this time she 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 who has been reduced to living in a Tent City in Portland, OR, with his wife and infant daughter. Things appear desperate for Joe who was a former boxer and 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 he went out for a jog and was stopped by a man who recognized him from his boxing days and offered him the chance to make $300 in an illegal no-holds-barred fight.
Once Joe agrees to this, the action picks up and he is soon whisked away to a secret location where he is matched against an obviously impaired opponent. He is told the crowd wants blood and shortly Joe is pummeling this opponent to the point where he stops hitting him because he believes the other man is seriously hurt. He is told the man is dead and is quickly hustled away from the site.

Things go downhill from there after he is summoned, once again, to burgle a home and 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 she is soon plunged into an underworld of violence and crime as she tries to find out what really happened and who is the true killer.

As a former attorney I am always drawn to books written by other attorneys, and Margolin has been able to develop a technique of time compression. The book is almost devoid of any prose, his character development basically consists of giving us physical descriptions of people, and he is able to cut through all the typical trial preparation, motions, investigations, and some shoddy police work in order to quickly get us to what he considers the most important parts of the story.

This is a fast-paced and action-packed book that, while sparse on legal details, has enough legal and investigative insights to make a plausible and successful mystery. I read this in less than 24 hours, and the pages seem to fly by as we follow Lattimore, Lockwood, prostitutes, judges, bikers, and gangsters to a breathless conclusion.

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