I know that any number of you out there are probably pretty sick and tired of lawyers, especially lawyers who write books (or, for that matter, reviews of books!). I mean, you would think that the members of the profession to which I have sacrificed my sanity, my good nature, and my hair would keep out of the book writing business and stick to what they know best, like rui...I mean, running the country and suing McDonald's for selling hot coffee. Well, you might think that, but I don't. I mean, you've got Turow, Grisham, and the like making big bucks and they don't have to worry about even leaving the house to do it. Trust me, staying at home every day and working beats a commute, 12-hour days listening to people p and m to you, and running the gauntlet of Living Dead extras that every city worth the name seems to have on its downtown streets. Is it any wonder that attorneys are turning to book writing as a profession?
Amy Gutman is the latest in the long line of attorneys who have traded jurisprudence for word prudence. She has an impressive background, having worked as a journalist before graduating with honors from Harvard and then spending four years practicing law in New York. Part of the enjoyment of reading her first novel, EQUIVOCAL DEATH, is that it's easy to imagine a senior partner in some legal megafirm reaching for his bottle of digitalis as he recognizes himself as a model for one of the characters in the book.
It's not all that difficult to see Gutman as a model for Kate Paine in EQUIVOCAL DEATH. Paine is an associate at Samson & Mills, which is described as the nation's most powerful law firm. Kate is assigned to assist Carter Mills, the firm's managing partner and, interestingly enough, the partner who interviewed Kate for the associate position. Kate and the firm are rocked, however, when firm partner Madeleine Waters is brutally murdered. Just before she was murdered, Madeleine gave a strong but vague warning to Kate about what could happen to her. Kate is trying to unlock the secrets of Madeleine's death but winds up discovering secrets about her employer --- and truths about herself --- that might be better left uncovered. She also, in the process, places herself in terrible danger from sources so unexpected that the reader is left as surprised as she is.
Gutman has written a strong first novel that portends bigger and better things for her in the future. She has a couple of minor weaknesses to overcome --- the first half of the book could have been a bit stronger and in a couple of spots she strays into Alice Hoffman territory. But these are small quibbles; EQUIVOCAL DEATH will disappoint few and leave many anticipating Gutman's next novel.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 24, 2001