I have long been a fan of crime fiction, everything from hard-boiled detective stories, to mysteries, to legal thrillers. There always seems to be an element of excitement in reading about criminals that you grow to like who seem as if they are going to get away with the perfect crime. Or, the lawyer who, in court is being run over roughshod by their opponent, only to find the legal catch and is able to pull out the win.
Of course, in the last two decades, the king of the legal thriller has been John Grisham. I began reading him from nearly the beginning and waited in anticipation for the next novel to arrive. But, when I read “The Street Lawyer” I had and immense letdown and I stopped reading Grisham novels for a number of years. Grisham novels rely on plot twists and turns and cliff hangers at the end of chapters which sometimes are not resolved until a chapter or two later. Most of his books are fast paced and drive the reader along with the characters through the stories.
Just yesterday I finished a novel, a legal mystery, which drove me through the book because of the characters rather than with them. “Missing Witness” by Gordon Campbell is an amazing legal mystery whose story is great, but whose characters carry the story from beginning to end.
The story is told by Doug McKenzie, a recent law school graduate who goes to work for a Phoenix, Arizona law firm, mainly because he wants to work with and learn from one of the great criminal defense lawyers of his day, Dan Morgan.
McKenzie and Morgan catch a murder case by request of the Ferris Eddington, a rich rancher whose son was killed. The problem is, Eddington wants his daughter-in-law Rita, who has been accused of the murder, defended. With reservations, Morgan and McKenzie take the case and find themselves in a legal brawl with Maximillian Hauser, the district attorney prosecuting the case.
Morgan is cocky and sure-footed, while McKenzie is learning that law school and law practice are two entirely different animals. The defense of Rita Eddington throws an ethical dilemma at the two defense attorneys and ultimately creates an even larger dilemma, one which Doug McKenzie finds he cannot cope with without relying on individuals whom he trusts more than Dan Morgan.
Halfway through the book, it appears that the story is ending as the trial of Rita Eddington concludes, but Campbell is just getting the story started. What is Morgan capable of doing in order to protect his client and what will McKenzie do to quiet his conscience and defend and innocent girl?
Highly readable, exceptionally well written, amazing story telling, while creating characters that ring true showing their strengths and their flaws. If you read legal mysteries you must give Missing Witness a try. If you don’t, read it anyway- you won’t be disappointed. Meanwhile, I will be waiting in anticipation for Gordon Campbell’s next book.