Monday, April 21, 2008

Kate Wilhelm: Sleight of Hand - A Barbara Holloway Legal Thriller

Guest Review by Kit Bradley
April 19, 2008

My wife Sue meets Kate Wilhelm each year at the Eugene (Oregon) Library Authors and Artists fair, and each year picks up another one or two of Kate’s mystery novels. Wanting some relaxing, easy reading, I grabbed Sleight of Hand off our to-be-read bookcase and gave it a go. It was what I hoped for, a good murder mystery that was easy to pick up and keep reading past when I should be going to sleep.

As the story begins, Wally and Meg Lederer have been to visit his childhood acquaintance, Jay Wilkens. A valuable collectable disappears, and Jay is sure Wally, a professional but now reformed pickpocket, has taken it. Looks bad for Wally, but then Jay is found murdered, and it looks even worse for Wally.

Enter Barbara Holloway, a successful trial lawyer, who agrees to take up Wally’s case, and he’s open and charming enough that she’s sure he’s innocent. As things unfold, Jay’s current wife, Connie, disappears, and his former wife, Stephanie, and kids come into the story. As she learns more, Barbara becomes committed to protecting and helping the “good guys,” which include Wally and Meg and Stephanie. But she learns things that create significant moral dilemmas for her in two different areas.

The story leads us through Wally’s trial and Barbara’s handling of her dilemmas while defending Wally. It was interesting to see how the prosecuting and defending lawyers could draw completely opposite conclusions from the same set of facts, both sounding very plausible. The tension builds as we wonder how the jury will go, and as Barbara deals with the moral problems. And then the jury comes back and the story winds down.

Sleight of Hand was fun to read and a good relaxation. There are some relationships between Barbara and her father, and her clients, and her want-to-be boy friend, all of which add interest. But the story is not very complex, and there aren’t a lot of things for us to guess about, and then watch unfold to surprises at the end. I’m not very comfortable with how the moral dilemmas worked out, but then neither was Barbara. Life sometimes requires compromises.

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