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The Cage


The Cage

Former attorney Bonnie Kistler wowed readers with HOUSE ON FIRE, a searing work of courtroom fiction centered on the themes of truth and perspective. In THE CAGE, she proves once again that the truth is only what you make it, this time turning her keen eye toward a global fashion conglomerate and the ambitious young lawyer poised to send it all crumbling down.

It’s Super Bowl Sunday, and with both the game and the foggy night keeping everyone inside, the offices of Claudine de Martineau International (CDMI) are almost abandoned. Almost. As three night-crew workers lug their cleaning machines out of a van, they notice two offices lit up on the 30th floor. Minutes later, an elevator, etched with a gridwork of black bars to evoke the old cage-style Edwardian lifts, stalls out. A woman calls 911 on her coworker's phone, claiming that they are trapped and her coworker seems to be having a panic attack. Within an hour, the elevator slams to the ground floor, the control panel dings, and one woman steps out. Behind her is the body of the other, shot cleanly through the face.

"Expertly drawn characters, urgent themes of global corruption and corporate evildoing, and a seriously clever premise make this a deeply satisfying and utterly unputdownable read from a brilliant and elegant writer."

The survivor is Shay Lambert, CDMI’s newest lawyer; the deceased is Lucy Barton-Jones, their perfectly coiffed and poised human resources director. Shay claims that Lucy died by suicide, pulling a gun from her purse only moments after suffering from panic-induced claustrophobia after the elevator went dark. Her claim seems plausible, but then again, she is the only witness and the lone survivor. With no one to back up --- or dispute --- her story, police must first rule out homicide, and Shay has more than a few skeletons in her closet.

Once a promising young lawyer, Shay has been unemployed and accruing massive debt for five years. Both she and her husband, David, were unceremoniously laid off around the same time. With both of them already drowning in student loan debt, their gilded futures have been not only stalled, but destroyed. Now David comes and goes at odd hours, spewing savage put-downs at Shay before he passes out from drugs or alcohol. Shay, still pinching herself, has just been handed a life-changing new career thanks to CDMI’s senior vice president and general counsel, Ingram Barrett.

Barrett, or “Barry,” sees a certain conviction in Shay that he feels cannot be taught to even the best lawyers, a willingness to believe whatever her client needs her to believe to win their case. With CDMI facing a massive lawsuit centered on the operations of its manufacturing facilities in Myanmar, Barry is confident that Shay is just the kind of lawyer they need: hungry, ambitious and flexibly dogmatic.

With Barry’s praise ringing in her ears, Shay feels certain that she can “win her case” and present her story to the police, convince them of her innocence, and hopefully sell them on the idea that Lucy killed herself. But she is not prepared to learn that Barry and CDMI are actively trying to persuade the police of the opposite: that Shay is the killer, and a dangerous one at that.

As Shay continues to face down the police and the mounting evidence against her, she recounts her time so far at CDMI: strange, lowly assignments; a locked file room; a security agent who acts as her paralegal; and some gaping, shocking holes in CDMI’s financial reports. What emerges is not only a locked-room mystery, but a far-reaching, totally riveting tale of corporate corruption, horrifying criminal activity both in the US and abroad, and a slick, smart, unreliable narrator with everything to lose. In other words, a must-read.

Just as she did in HOUSE ON FIRE, Kistler plays with the idea of the truth: when it matters most, when it doesn’t, and when it must be buried at all costs. Readers are encouraged to accept Shay’s version of the elevator incident early on, but Kistler also writes her to be cunning and ambitious, not just a victim or witness, which adds an air of danger to her narrative. At the same time, Barry and CDMI emerge as obvious villains, creating a David and Goliath-esque plotline of an individual vs. a corporation. And who doesn’t love to see “the man” get taken down a notch?

With the key players identified, THE CAGE is not so much a whodunit as a why-dunit or a how-dunit. No seriously, how? Kistler’s background in law comes in handy, and though she can occasionally overwhelm the plot with too much legalese, I have no doubt that readers will pull through any moments of confusion thanks to a complex mystery, a relatable heroine and the absolute need to figure out what really happened in that elevator.

Expertly drawn characters, urgent themes of global corruption and corporate evildoing, and a seriously clever premise make this a deeply satisfying and utterly unputdownable read from a brilliant and elegant writer. THE CAGE is perfect for readers of WHISPER NETWORK, DON’T TURN AROUND and MIRACLE CREEK.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on February 18, 2022

The Cage
by Bonnie Kistler