R Franklin James, The Trade List

A book review for Mystery Thriller Week

Hollis Morgan is a probate lawyer whose background includes a fraud conviction, a pardon and membership of a book group open only to ex-cons. When the story opens she is a valued associate at Dodson Dodson and Doyle (known as Triple-D) where her mentor, George Ravel, has asked her to represent him in a multi-million inheritance case. George just recently established contact with the birth mother who had given him up for adoption more than 50 years earlier. His newly discovered mother died shortly afterwards, having recently redrawn her will in his favour. Along with a substantial estate, he inherited her resentful, selfish step-family and a threatened lawsuit.

This isn’t Hollis’s main problem however. A former cell-mate from her prison days has been murdered. Melanie Jones, now going by the name Olivia Shur, had evidently been about to contact Hollis. Olivia had been trying to extricate herself from a money laundering scheme and had been in possession of an incriminating list of prominent participants with which she’d been hoping to negotiate a deal with the District Attorney. Clearly, she’d been hoping that Hollis, though not a criminal attorney, would be able to bargain on her behalf.

Unfortunately for Hollis, the only contact that Olivia has been able to make with her before her murder is a short, uninformative letter. Both the police and the criminals believe that Hollis knows more about the list’s whereabouts and contents than she’s willing to say.

Hollis is an engaging protagonist and she interacts well with a range of well drawn and varied characters, from Vince, the recovering heroin addict in the firm’s mailroom, by way of George, the successul lawyer who has only just allowed himself to think about what he’d really like to do with his life, and Tony Grueber the ostensibly less successful octogenarian lawyer who has never had a moment’s doubt about his profession (and whose actual reason for regret lies elsewhere), to Tony’s ex-wife, Phyllis, a charming and gentle old lady who was once an implacable deputy DA. That’s before we mention Hollis’s close friends Stephanie and Rena, a pleasingly varied assortment of police detectives, and at least one other member of the Fallen Angels Book Club. The book’s considerable pleasures lie in the skilful portrayals of these characters and their relationships to Hollis.

The plot, in contrast, is straight off-the-shelf and wouldn’t have been out of place in an episode of The Rockford Files. This is the fourth book in a series and it seems safe to assume that the plot was little more than a pretext to reunite some well-liked characters who had previously worked well together. It is clear from the summaries of earlier books in the series that they had more compelling premises.

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