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Courting Death by Carol Stephenson
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Jul 29, 2011

really liked it
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I really love romances and I really love mysteries, and when the two come together in one book I am in my element. Such is this novel that features an attorney who has been "burned out" as an assistant prosecutor and has now turned to criminal defense. In practice with her two best friends, Nicole Sterling is trying to keep her life intact but having some professional and personal difficulties. Her last case as prosecutor was dismissed on a technicality--one that was the fault of a police detective in part and in part because she "froze" and messed up her presentation. That may have had much to do with why she left the district attorney's office, but it may have more to do with the fact that her life was a mess--a failed love affair, her mother slowly sliding into the gray mists of alzheimer's disease, and the sense of barely coping with the stresses she can't seem to escape. He long-time love interest and former lover, Sam Bowie, has not given up and is an ever-present figure, not only because he has not given up on their relationship and because he is the police presence investigating Nicole's current client.

There's lots going on in this novel and the author's style of telling the story also contributes to the sense that there are hidden activities that Nicole and Sam need to uncover and, thankfully, do uncover as the story moves along. It is full of suspense but it is also a love story between two people who seem to find the stresses of their job getting in the way. The prejudice of law enforcement against defense attorneys is certainly a factor as is the fact that Nicole ended their relationship for reasons that don't make much sense to Sam and Nicole knows represent her fears more than anything. Add in the bad guys--murderers, black marketeers who specialize in selling human body parts, and a mother under indictment for the death of her second child, and you have the stuff of a novel that will keep the reader riveted and the emotions totally engaged.

But there is a back story here -- stuff that has gone on in Nicole's life that keep her fearful of relationships. Her father and mother's divorce when she was five has always haunted her as it really felt like abandonment, a feeling that has kept her resisting any close love relationships most of her adult life. Even Sam nails her on this. Somewhere down the line, Nicole's half-sister Melissa makes an appearance and she is an instrument of some important information that changed Nicole's understanding of her dad's departure and his changed attitude toward her in the latter years of her adolescence. Sam is also a study. He is a man who takes his job seriously and who had a difficult time understanding Nicole's departure as an assistant district attorney. He struggles with his personal feelings for her, and Sam's internal struggle seems to characterize the struggles that have kept him and Nicole at sword's point ever since Nicole ended their relationship. Yet they are still drawn together and her defense of her client and Sam's need to investigate keep throwing them together.

I really, really liked this novel. The characters were crafted to be edgy and sharply drawn. Each of the supporting cast of characters were delightful, never getting fuzzy or blending in with others. Nicole's mom was an interesting study in that as a former stage performer she had won awards for her performance, yet she was slowly fading away. Yet during moments of lucidity she was brilliant and the former glory of her personality shone through. Nicole's law partners were indeed her friends as they never backed away from "telling like it is." Even in matters relating to her connection to Sam, her friends were right there, always supportive but never failing to urge her beyond her fears.

Lovers of romance and lovers of a good mystery will find much here to like. It is a masterful blend of the two genres and a testimony to the author's skill as one who has the story well in mind before the fact. As an attorney herself the author can write with a native authenticity and it shows. I highly recommend this novel as one terrific read.

I give it a 4.5 out of 5.

This review was originally posted on Book Binge by Judith.
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