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Friday, April 19, 2013

Sleight Of Hand by Phillip Margolin (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website 
Order the book HERE
Read the first seven chapters HERE
Read Civilian Reader’s review of Executive Privilege 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of Supreme Justice
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Capitol Murder
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s interview with Phillip Margolin

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Phillip Margolin is an ex-criminal defense attorney from the New York School of Law. He has had nearly a quarter century of experience working as defense attorney in Portland, Oregon and has all sorts of criminal cases appear before the United States Supreme Court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, The Oregon Supreme Courtand The Oregon Court of Appeals. He was the first Oregon attorney to use the Battered Women's Syndrome to defend a abused woman. Two of his books and a short story have been made into movies. He lives in Oregon state.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Charles Benedict—criminal defense lawyer, amateur magician, and professional hit man—and Private Investigator Dana Cutler are on a collision course set in motion by Benedict’s greatest sleight of hand trick yet: framing a millionaire for the murder of his much younger wife.

Ten years ago, Horace Blair fell in love with Carrie, the prosecutor in his DUI trial. After a torrid courtship, he persuaded her to marry him and to sign a pre-nuptial agreement guaranteeing her twenty million dollars if she remained faithful during the first ten years of their marriage. The week before their tenth anniversary, Carrie disappears and Horace is charged with her murder. Desperate to clear his name, the millionaire hires one of D.C.’s most brilliant and ruthless defense attorneys, Charles Benedict, who, in a twist of fate, may be the very man who killed Carrie.

Meanwhile, private investigator Dana Cutler is in the Pacific Northwest on the trail of a stolen relic, a medieval scepter dating from the Ottoman Empire. Hitting a dead end sends her back to Virginia perplexed and disappointed—yet, the jewel-encrusted specter may be the key to the twisting case of Horace and Carrie Blair.

It's the perfect crime, unless Dana Cutler can conjure a few tricks of her own to take down a cunning psychopath and expose his diabolical plot—before he can work his deadly magic on her.

FORMAT/INFO: Sleight Of Hand is 312 pages long divided into Sixty chapters over three parts. Narration is in the third person via Dana Cutler, Charles Benedict, Horace Blair, Carrie Blair, Stephanie Robb, Frank Santoro, Gregor Karpinski, and Sarah Gelfand. This book has a self-contained plot line, but also contains characters that have appeared in previous books and has a few minor references to certain past events from those books.

April 9, 2013 marks the North American Hardcover and e-book publication of Sleight Of Hand via Harper Collins.

ANALYSIS: After discovering Phillip Margolin via Wild Justice nearly a decade ago, I have made sure never to miss any of his amazing mystery-thriller books. Phillip Margolin is a master storyteller and often comes up with complicated plots that feature a vast character cast. With this new standalone book, hebrings back a character from his previous published Washington trilogy. Dana Cutler is the main protagonist of this tale, which borrows some plot points from the classic Maltese Falcon storyline and is the author's ode to it as well.

The storyline characteristically begins in Margolin fashion with various disticnt plot threads; the first one focusses on Dana who is still doing what she does best and trying to stay out of mortifying cases as shown in the previous trilogy volumes. Fate and the author it seems have other plans for her as she soon finds out. The storyline also features a very fascinating character in the form of Charles Benedict who is a defense attorney to many shady characters but does it with such suave and charm that it often belies his deadly wiles. The second plotline deals with Carrie Blair who is the wife of Horace Blair and soon to receive twenty million dollars with their impending separation. Things however never go as planned and of course the stage is set for a confrontation of minds between Dana and Charles.

Their entanglement occurs in ways that are very unpredictable and almost entirely unexpected. The plot is twisted and of course laden with several surprises that will keep the reader motivated to flip the pages and figure out the main mystery. This is the main aspect of Phillip’s writing that I so adore, besides Jeffrey Deaver, its only Phillip Margolin who consistently comes up with these fantastic plots that have me guessing while not seeming to be rehashes of his previous books (John Grisham I’m looking at you). When dealing with a large character cast, characterization is very vital to the success of its plot and this book is no deviation from that successful formula. Besides Dana and one minor character, everyone else is a new character and a fully rounded one at that.

In regards to character cast, reader, who have read the previous books wherein Dana was featured will love this new twist in her professional life whereas for new readers the author gives enough background details for them to understand her and her psyche. Also the author takes care not to spoil the previous books beyond what was mentioned in their blurbs and even so only some details of the first book of the trilogy gets mentioned. I quite liked this aspect as this way for older readers, there was no rehash of previous events which they are familiar with and for new readers the previous books remain unspoiled. In regards to Charles Benedict, the character while fascinating does some things which would be hard to believe in a real-life court of law. In this regard I think the author was just trying to create a flamboyant character and so I can overlook some of these discrepancies in regards to his tricks.

Lastly there’s the pace of the plot, which makes the read a lively one and constantly prods the reader forward. I thought that this book was one of his better paced ones as the author had complete control over his story with all the twists and revelations. No page seems to be wasted with any side digressions and everything that is revealed is of importance to the end climax. Readers hopefully should enjoy this twisted ode to Dashiell Hammett’s masterpiece which while not fascinating as the original still delivers as a thrilling story.

In regards to any negatives with this story, it reminded me a bit of Proof Positive in regards to the final climax and plot resolution. Perhaps some readers might feel that it is a generic storyline and so experienced readers might not find it entirely to their liking. Overall though there’s not much for me to complain or point faults at with this book. Readers have to keep in mind that this is no literary novel but a mystery thriller that has aims to keep the readers guessing till the end and entertain them wholly. On this front the book and author have succeeded entirely.

CONCLUSION: I thoroughly enjoyed this story and while Dana Cutler wasn’t one of my favorite characters in the author’s previous work. In this book I thought she was a good protagonist to anchor the storyline. Sleight Of Hand simply confirms Phillip Margolin's place among the top rung of Mystery/Thriller writers with the addendum that he's also one of the most under-appreciated ones.


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