Review

Legally Dead

by Edna Buchanan

Edna Buchanan is one of that stellar group of Florida mystery
writers who delivers one slam-bang hit after another. After eight
successful Britt Montero mysteries, Buchanan has created a unique
new character who hits the ground running.

Federal Marshall Michael Venturi is a witness relocation
specialist, creating new identities for often unsavory characters
whose information and testimony will help bring down bigger bad
guys. When he learns of a grisly slaying and a second missing child
in the same small New Hampshire town where he located mobster Gino
Salvi, his gut tells him that Salvi committed the crimes. Venturi
feels responsible for putting this village in harm’s way by
placing a sexual predator in a quiet neighborhood. When he tries to
persuade the FBI to allow him to follow up on his suspicions, the
Feds aren’t willing to relinquish their prize witness,
thereby jeopardizing their case.

When Venturi reacts badly to the situation, his superiors force
him to take time off. Convinced that the recent loss of his wife
and unborn child is leading him to act irrationally, he is put on
medical leave and told to take a few weeks to get his head
together. He takes that opportunity to go off the grid so he
can’t be traced, travels to New Hampshire and takes care of
business on his own.

Even though he carefully covers his tracks, his superiors
suspect that Venturi is responsible for the ultimate arrest of
Salvi following an armored car heist gone bad. He is fired when he
rebels further, so he heads to Florida to try to figure out what
he’s going to do with the rest of his life. He contacts
Danny, a Black Operations buddy from his Navy Seal days, who runs a
local funeral home while working undercover for an anti-terrorist
organization. Danny invites Venturi to stay in his guest house,
where he swims, fishes and wanders the swamps and bayous. There he
rescues a suicidal man who turns out to be a high-profile NASA
scientist, mortally depressed over a work-related scandal that has
ruined his career and his future. He brings him back to his
apartment at Danny’s, and together they figure out how to
“relocate” the scientist in an entirely new way --- by
making him legally dead. He must disappear in a manner that will
irrefutably prove his death, meanwhile adopting a whole new
identity and moving on with his life.

Venturi is highly skilled at modeling new identities, a
relatively simple procedure of creating false IDs, altering
appearance through hair and eye color changes, even plastic
surgery. Having to produce a body or sufficient DNA to identify
remains is quite another thing. Simply leaving a wallet and car
keys on the beach and vanishing has worked in a few isolated cases,
but with a desperate, high-profile personality, which describes
most of Venturi’s clients, authorities may not be satisfied
with easily manufactured evidence.

Venturi meets some of Danny’s friends, who have helpful
skills of their own. Among them are a female doctor friend of
Danny’s wife and Venturi’s former mother-in-law, who
turns out to be a genius at not only helping with disguises but is
a sympathetic listener and enthusiastic participant in the growing
group of people who begin to seek out Venturi and Danny to help
them start a new life. Their forensic evidence faking skills grow
with each new case. They create death scenarios that run from shark
attacks to plane crashes, explosions and fire, each carefully
salted with sufficient DNA and circumstantial evidence to stand up
to the tightest scrutiny from law enforcement and coroner’s
juries.

Then one of their relocation clients is murdered, another nearly
killed and a third threatened. The list of people who know about
their clandestine operations is very short, so Venturi begins to
wonder how anyone could have discovered who and where these people
were. When he and Danny start being targeted, and Danny’s
family is put in danger, events go from bad to worse.

Edna Buchanan is a master at creating interesting characters
with colorful backstories, pulling the reader into the lives of
each of the “legally dead” characters as well as the
heroes and their families. LEGALLY DEAD brings a brand-new twist on
the suspense/thriller scene and leads to anticipation that we will
see more of Michael Venturi.

Reviewed by Roz Shea on December 30, 2010

Legally Dead
by Edna Buchanan

  • Publication Date: August 12, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 0743294777
  • ISBN-13: 9780743294775