Wayne J. Keeley,
Mahogany Row
(Fiction Works, 2000)

My first choice of reading material is typically something from the fantasy genre, but I'm a closet murder mystery junkie as well. A recent release in that genre, Wayne J. Keeley's Mahogany Row, is unassuming in appearance -- the scales of justice weighted down by a gun in one and a dead body in the other. Oddly enough, the gun appears to be the heavier of the two.

This book is fair, in my opinion. It was a very quick read, which I found disappointing. I dove in after dinner, and finished well before it was time to think of sleep -- it reminded me of the fast and easy reading you will find in the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew series. That's not to say the plot is childish -- far from!

The press release accompanying this book says it "infuriates the legal profession," apparently because the legal profession is upset with Keeley for telling it like it is. I don't think they should be upset; there is nothing there that the average person doesn't already realize. Lawyers are human, they have faults. If those in the legal profession can't deal with the truths in this novel, they maybe need a big reality check!

Once you begin reading, you will have to go to the end, that much is definitely true. Mark McCoy is a great attorney, and his world appears to functioning well. He is rising up in the ranks and is due for partnership consideration in his firm -- at least he thought he was. Then someone decides to kill his boss, in Mark's office, leaving a note on the desk to the effect that Mark won't be considered as partner material.

This poor man goes from the top of his little world to the absolute bottom during the course of the novel. And one has to keep reading to see what ill will befall the poor wretch next! Someone is out to kill him and he doesn't know why; the police are positive he is guilty of the murder; his old friend won't represent him as it may be a conflict of interest later; he finds out his old friend is a closet homosexual and has been since college -- so the police now believe that Mark's sexual appetites may not be "wholesome." It is a natural flow of situations that Keeley has directed well, taking us on a fly-by-night tour of New York and the depraved who live in the darkness on the fringes -- or so we thought. Perhaps they reside amongst us now, in the guise of respectable prominent business men. Who can say?

Mahogany Row will take you on a compelling ride from start to finish, but although the characters are strong and the plot believable, there is something missing, something I find integral to a great read. It didn't touch any emotions in me, nothing beyond twisted amusement at this poor pathetic protagonist. You'd think as a lawyer he might be a bit faster on the uptake and more discerning of human behaviour in general.

I recommend reading this book; it is a decent way to spend some time, but I would not by any stretch of the imagination call it a legal thriller. Legal, yes. Crime -- yes. But not a thriller. I also challenge you to correctly figure out the guilty party before Mark does! A great blend of humanism and reality -- and I hope to see more from Keeley in the future -- perhaps lengthier, but with the same gritty down-to-earth situations.

Keeley is a two-time Emmy Award-winner and a noted entertainment attorney. I hope his colleagues and peers will allow him to continue his writing without the outrage -- it really isn't necessary!

[ by Naomi de Bruyn ]
Rambles: 25 August 2001

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