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Friday, March 27, 2015

Fox Is Framed by Lachlan Smith

Mysterious Press, 256 pages, $24 (release date - 4/7/15)

“Fox Is Framed” is the third in the Leo Maxwell series written by Lachlan Smith, a civil rights lawyer in Alabama. Wouldn’t you think that that would be a better scenario for a book than the life of a civil trial lawyer in San Francisco? Not if the civil litigation lawyer has a father in prison, an older brother whose brain is impaired from having been shot by the man he suspects killed his mother, and the prospect of an offer he may not be able to refuse from the criminal world.

I haven’t read the first two books (“Bear Is Broken” and “Lion Plays Rough”) which detail Teddy Maxwell’s shooting and Leo Maxwell’s legal practice. Thankfully, Smith does a good job of introducing his characters, explaining the relationships among the people, and summarizing the plot thus far without making it sound forced.

The year is 2004 (or thereabouts) and I’m not quite sure why this series is set in the past. Maybe it’s explained in one of the other books. Nevertheless, it doesn’t appear significant in “Fox Is Framed.” There’s some DNA talk, and maybe the story had to be shifted back that far so there wouldn’t be any DNA testing available for the original trial in 1983 (or thereabouts).

For twenty-one-years Lawrence Maxwell has proclaimed his innocence while imprisoned for killing his wife, mother of Leo and Teddy. Leo was ten years old when he returned home from school and discovered his mother’s body.

As “Fox Is Framed” opens, Leo has finally come around to believing in his father’s innocence. Teddy, also a lawyer, has been helping Lawrence since he was able. The burden rests on Leo now, however, because Teddy’s brain injury means he no longer can swim with the sharks as a defense attorney. He can shuffle papers but can’t do trial work. Smith touchingly describes Teddy’s life now, with his brain-damaged wife (they met in a support group for people with brain damage) and their infant daughter.

The family scenes are good, but the strength of this book lies in the courtroom scenes. Defense lawyer Nina Schuyler grabbed the short straw and was assigned Lawrence’s defense. Fortuitously, it turns out she’s a keeper. Smith gives Nina and her nemesis ADA Angela Crowder some great speeches.

If Nina is the brains in this case, Leo is the brawn and gets to do the action scenes. In investigating some leads, he is led back to an old acquaintance and to some dark and criminal connections his father may have.

Leo gets to scramble around some more when an ex-con is murdered, virtually on the eve of his anticipated testimony that Lawrence confessed to him that he killed his wife. Why would he do that when Lawrence, acting as a jailhouse lawyer, helped to free him? It’s part of the nice, thick plot.

This is a tiny bit of a spoiler, so alert, alert, alert! Read no further if you don’t want to know this tiny bit of information. 

One of the intriguing parts of this book is that there are plot lines left unfinished. There is a cliffhanger at the end in the best serial tradition.

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