Little, Brown and Company, 2001
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood
Far from having a life, Kate Paine doesn't even want one. Only a year out of Harvard Law School, Kate is an associate with a prestigious law firm and has a resume of high profile cases that she has worked on. She takes great satisfaction in these things. Her dedication to her work is complete, until the horrendous death of Madeleine Waters, a partner in the firm. Kate was working with Madeleine to defend a predatory magazine owner against sexual harassment charges, and Kate is now forced to question the choices she has been making.
We would not expect a 26-year-old girl with problems of her own to turn into a prodigy detective, and Kate does not. She is out of her depth. We know it better than she does, and can sympathize. In EQUIVOCAL DEATH we accompany Kate through the discovery of murder and lesser crimes, as she learns what is behind the many facades in the firm. The reader gets to be the detective, building a profile of the multiple killer and comparing it to the many facts provided with apparent spontaneity in the narrative.
Perhaps the most outstanding characteristic of this book is that the red herrings are so temptingly fat and juicy. We experience the thoughts of the killer and each of the major suspects, and one by one eliminate the red herrings. This is a suspenseful and interesting challenge throughout most of the book. However, I finally ended up eliminating the true killer on the basis of some information he/she really ought to have had but didn't. It wasn't satisfying to excuse the lapse by blaming it on his/her mental state, so in spite of the thrilling chase I had taken through the pages, I found the solution disappointing.
This is not to discourage the prospective reader, however. Right from the beginning scene, a tactile and visual experience that has claws, this book got a grip on me. There is a tightrope vitality that kept me speeding through the pages. I was so reluctant to lay it down that I carried the book into the kitchen at cooking time, to be able to hold onto it longer. Kate’s associates are all either enjoyable or intriguing. Kate's mental journey is so realistic and fast-paced that EQUIVOCAL DEATH is almost a psychological thriller. The visits we make into the head of the murderer are chilling, and we explore the thoughts of the main victim extensively as we look for the roots of the crimes. There is little attempt to acquaint us with detective forensics; our reasoning is meant to be psychological.
This debut novel leaves no question that author Amy Gutman is well acquainted with the stresses and demands of the world of big attorney firms. Gutman is a former attorney herself, with an impressive record of intellectual achievement, and her legal and evidential reasoning is one of the interesting facets of EQUIVOCAL DEATH. Blurb writers have been comparing Amy Gutman to John Grisham, but because I can better identify with EQUIVOCAL DEATH, I would far rather read another Amy Gutman than another John Grisham.
Apr 2001 Review Originally Published on the Independent Reviews Site
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