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FAIRBANKS “Deadly Solution,” the first volume of a new series written by Keenan Powell, kicks things off with Anchorage area lawyer Maeve Malloy being assigned to defend an Aleut man accused of beating a fellow homeless person to death. Though the defendant remembers nothing of the murder because of being blackout drunk, he swears he didn’t commit the crime, leaving Malloy and her investigator, Tom Sinclair, to scramble for a defense with only three weeks before the trial.

“Deadly Solution” hits hard exactly where any good legal thriller should in the courtroom scenes. Powell’s personal experience as a lawyer clearly shines through in sharp dialogue, detail oriented descriptions and a good look into the thought process of our hero as she puzzles out the nuances of testimony and debate. From the moment the trial opens to the final climax confronting the true culprit, every moment is engaging. Not brilliant, mind you, and not attempting to reinvent the genre, but immensely entertaining and enjoyable nonetheless.

But while the pay off is excellent, the build up sadly falls flat. Malloy’s personal stakes are left vague in the opening chapters and are only fully established toward the end of the investigation,more than halfway through the book. This leaves the reader without much to invest in except for the case,
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which is perfectly functional but just not interesting enough to stand on its own. It’s likely that many readers will give up before getting to the good bits.

This issue is compounded by the fact that, while the last half of the book or so is good, it’s not any kind of mind blowing genre break out.

Mind you, none of this makes the book “bad.” As mentioned, the last half or so is at least as engaging as any good “Law Order” episode, and it’s likely that legal procedural fans will love it. Heck, even non genre fans should find something to enjoy, provided the slow beginning doesn’t run them off.

It’s also got some strong themes fleshing out its structure, though they (like Malloy’s backstory) are spread thin until the second half. The most prominent is alcoholism, from its inherently destructive nature to the struggle to remain sober after escaping the influence and its echoes in late life. Following that is a call for respect and sympathy toward the homeless. The two complement each other and add a lot of depth to the story, which is ultimately what helps the courtroom drama land as well as it does.

“Deadly Solutions” is available now from Level Best Books.

“Deadly Solution: A Maeve Malloy Mystery”

By Keenan Powell

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