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Fatal February by Barbara Levenson

Coral Gables, Florida is the setting for this court drama about a defense attorney’s attempt to find out the truth about the murder of a wine importer, Gary Yarmouth. As most often happens, the police immediately suspect the wife, Lillian. Mary Magruder Katz is hired to defend the grieving widow. Proving that Lillian was not the one who stuck a letter opener in her husband’s heart becomes a piece of cake because the over-worked detectives of Miami PD did not have the time to do a thorough investigation. But, were the police actually right? Does Lillian outwit them all?

The author, Barbara Levenson, certainly knows her material. She is a circuit court judge in Miami, and she has been both on the prosecution and defense sides of the table during her long legal career in the Miami area. She is also a devoted dog person and models Katz’s dog, Sam, after one of the German shepherds in the Levenson kennel.

In the story mix is a new boyfriend for Katz, a Latin lover named Carlos. Katz’s vindictive former lover and boss, Frank Fieldstone, adds some drama and tension to the plot as he tries in every way possible to get even with Katz for leaving his firm and his bed. The interplay of Katz’s social life and her work life add interest to the plot and show some of the colorful aspects of life in south Florida.

This is quite a thin book. It ends, actually, just when the reader is getting involved with the characters, and hopefully we will see more of Mary Magruder Katz in additional books.

There are other things left to be desired in this court procedural. It is written in the sparse, matter-of-fact, bottom line fashion that is more typical of a court transcript than a murder mystery. A mystery is, after all, a literary work, and there needs to be more description to set the various scenes and give the reader a better understanding of how the characters look, feel and think. We get a very thorough picture of what each of the characters do– but the author doesn’t really get inside her characters to give the reader insight about what makes them tick.

We also don’t as readers feel as if we could be dropped inside the different locations– except possibly the court room– and really understand how these people interact with their environment. I’d especially like to see more of that when Katz and Carlos are visiting with his parents and other relatives. I’d like to really get inside the Latin culture through Katz’ relationship with Carlos. Levenson missed an opportunity to bring that unique south Florida flavor to her book by keeping it to a “just the facts ma’am” kind of writing style.

This is not a new publication. It was copyrighted in 2009. I have not yet read Levenson’s newer Mary Magruder Katz mystery, Justice in June, but I look forward to seeing if there is more character development and more descriptive elements in the latest offering.

Liz Nichols

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