Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Mystery Book Review: Fatal February by Barbara Levenson

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is publishing a new review of Fatal February by Barbara Levenson. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

Fatal February by Barbara Levenson

A Mary Magruder Katz Mystery

Oceanview (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1-933515-52-X (193351552X)
ISBN-13: 978-1-933515-52-6 (9781933515526)
Publication Date: February 2009
List Price: $22.95

Review: Senior judge for the circuit court in Miami-Dade County Barbara Levenson pens her first mystery, Fatal February, featuring criminal defense attorney Mary Magruder Katz who not only has a new high-profile case, but a new man in her life.

First the case: Socialite Lillian Yarmouth has been arrested for the stabbing murder of her husband. The press have already convicted her, but Mary isn't convinced. From all outward appearances, they were a happy, loving couple who adored their two college-age children. Most of the couple's assets were in her name, so money couldn't have been an issue. But there are other secrets in this family that may well provide a motive the prosecution can use. And it's up to Mary to discover what they are before her trial begins.

Then there's Carlos. Their first meeting is an inauspicious one: he rear-ends her car. But soon he's a client then a lover and then her fiercest protector. He's fallen for Mary, and she for him, but can their relationship stand the strain of everything going on around them?

It's hard not to like a mystery that opens with this paragraph:

Lillian Yarmouth murdered her husband. She stabbed him with her grandmother's antique silver letter opener. Right in the heart. At least, that's what everyone in Miami believed, including the Miami Herald, although they used the term "allegedly" several times.

Not surprisingly given the author's background, the strongest elements of Fatal February are the courtroom scenes and when Mary is being lawyerly. Mary is the kind of lawyer a defendant wants, whether they're guilty or not. She's tough, sympathetic, knowledgeable, and capable. She also knows how to balance work with pleasure. The other characters in the book are also well-developed. Carlos in particular provides a nice counterpoint to Mary and their scenes together are entertaining.

The plot, however, is somewhat thin and weakly developed. Only one credible suspect (other than Lillian) is introduced resulting in an either/or scenario, not much depth for a mystery. From a legal perspective, however, this probably makes sense. After all, the defense attorney simply has to provide a case for reasonable doubt to win a verdict of not guilty, not prove her client's innocence. Still, a red herring here and there would have helped generate some uncertainty in the reader's mind.

On balance, though, Fatal February, with its engaging characters and colorful setting, is an enjoyable way to while away that wintry afternoon.

Special thanks to Maryglenn McCombs Book Publicity for providing an ARC of Fatal February for this review.

Review Copyright © 2009 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved.

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Synopsis (from the publisher): For half Jewish, half Southern Baptist criminal defense attorney Mary Magruder Katz, life starts to spin completely out of control when a minor fender bender turns out to be an unlikely shot from Cupid’s bow.

Carlos Martin, the other car’s driver, isn’t just a distracted driver; he’s distracting. Carlos is charming, handsome, and mysterious. Hardly before she knows what hit her, Mary breaks off her engagement, jumps into a sizzling romance with Carlos, gets fired from her former fiancĂ©’s highbrow law firm, starts her own practice, and lands her first client, Lillian Yarmouth.

But Lillian isn’t just any client; she’s the prime suspect in what’s become the Miami society murder of the year.

While investigating Lillian’s alleged crime of passion, Mary finds that this case, like all matters of the heart, is anything but black and white. And Mary has clearly stumbled onto something that has someone seeing red.

February may be the shortest month of the year, but Mary’s got some long days (and nights) ahead. This month could be a real killer.

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Lance Wright owns and manages Omnimystery, a Family of Mystery Websites, which had its origin as Hidden Staircase Mystery Books in 1986. As the scope of the business expanded, first into book reviews — Mysterious Reviews — and later into information for and reviews of mystery and suspense television and film, all sites were consolidated under the Omnimystery brand in 2006.

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