Her Deadly Game by Robert Dugoni

Keera Duggan was building a solid reputation as a Seattle prosecutor, until her romantic relationship with a senior colleague ended badly. Now, returning to her family’s failing criminal defence law firm to work for her father is her only option. But with the right moves, maybe she can restore the family’s reputation, her relationship with her father, and her career.

Keera’s chance to establish herself comes when she’s retained by Vince LaRussa, an investment adviser accused of murdering his wealthy wheelchair-bound wife Anne. There is little hard evidence against him, but considering the couple’s impending and potentially nasty divorce, LaRussa faces life in prison. The prosecutor is equally challenging: Miller Ambrose, Keera’s former lover, eager to destroy her in court on her first homicide defence. But as a competitive former chess prodigy, Keera is confident that she can outmanoeuvre him. 

As Keera and her team start digging, they uncover more than they bargained for. Keera is sure that LaRussa did not kill his wife, but she is starting to suspect that he is not an innocent man. With duty to her client, her family’s legacy, and her own future to consider, she’s caught in a deadly game…

Clients don’t need heroes. They need competent, well reasoned representation. Remember. Evaluate and consider before you make a move. Don’t rush. And don’t let your desire to win influence the moves you make.’

Many years ago I was summoned to do jury service. Twice. The first time it was an attempted murder trial. As I and other jury members listened to the evidence and witnesses’ statements, we managed to come to a conclusion that was reasonable and logical. But that’s my whole experience from the criminal court: even when I completed law degree, my intention was to deal with totally different matters. Alas, that did not exactly happen. And it’s another story.

Getting to know Keera Duggan, her personality and methodological thinking in the latest book by Robert Dugoni was a blast. Of course, British and American legal systems differ significantly. What we might have seen in the films and TV series give us an overview but can we really say that we observe all nuances and lingo, the strategies and games? Well, Dugoni is a master of presenting all that and as he sets seemingly simple tale in motion, he captures the readers’ attention and imagination. He asks questions, makes them think, pulls them inside the story.

The riddle in which Mary is found dead beside a table and an open window. There’s glass on the floor and a puddle of water. The autopsy determines Mary died of shock and loss of oxygen. What happened?

What I enjoyed so much in Her Deadly Game was the constant comparison of the legal preparation to the game of chess. Keera was a child prodigy and still played chess to unwind, gather her thoughts and relax. She also needed mental stimulation. Her mind is brilliant, and her game on and off the court room, can be deadly yet she remains a likeable character, flawed and human, and mindful of all good advice from her father Patsy, also known as Irish Brawler. ‘Focus on the problem before you.’ At times that becomes difficult and infuriating, especially as the arrogant prosecutor Miller Ambrose, his ego bruised by being dumped, wants at all costs to win the case and to humiliate her. That’s when more advice comes in: ‘Opponents make mistakes. Play defense but look for that moment to attack. Games can change with one move, sometimes in an instant. So can trials.’

Keera is fully aware of the dangers ready to catch the committed lawyers: ‘Most people didn’t understand that some days, the good lawyers spent every waking moment thinking about their cases. It explained why so many lawyers were divorced or had addiction issues. The law, she had been told, more than once, was a jealous mistress.’ Her own family wasn’t immune: Her father, she knew, had envisioned the firm to someday be Patrick Duggan & Sons, but her two older brothers, Shawn and Michael, had chosen only one of their father’s passions – drinking, though Michael had been sober for fifteen years.’ Hence Patrick Duggan & Associates became Patsy Duggan and his daughters: Ella, Margaret and Keera. A team that focused completely on their work.

Her Deadly Game is a slick, exciting novel. Intelligent and fast-paced. Sparkling with logical practical wit, verbal duels and sharp dialogues, and on top of all this; with literary references. The intricate web of puzzle pieces are impossible to put into a coherent yet surprising picture until they actually fall in place, and the truth appears before the defence counsel and the very hard-working detectives. Here I need to mention the brilliantly portrayed professional relationship between Keera and Detective Frank Rossi of Seattle Violent Crimes: respectful, knowledgeable of law and its limitations, and understanding of how the system works. They are both aware that it is not the best but it mostly works in the current situation.

The culmination of defence in the controversial LaRussa case, involving intense work behind the screen, employing a private investigator JP Harrison, checking Anne’s family’s contacts and history, and tracking the mysterious book quotes, is both impressive and astonishing. Keera’s achievement was both at professional and personal level. Without giving away the conclusion one thing was certain: ‘Ambrose did what even the Sunday dinners did not. He’d brought them together, gave them a common enemy, made them a family who stood up for one another, and who cared for one another.’ That clearly indicates that more is coming from Duggans and Dugoni. I do hope so.

Thank you to Sophie Goodfellow of FMcM Associates for the invitation to join the blog tour for Her Deadly Game.

Robert Dugoni is the critically acclaimed New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Amazon Charts bestselling author of the Tracy Crosswhite series, which has sold more than eight million books worldwide. He is also the author of the bestselling Charles Jenkins series; the bestselling David Sloane series; the stand-alone novels The 7th Canon, Damage Control, The World Played Chess, and The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell, Suspense Magazine’s 2018 Book of the Year, for which Dugoni won an AudioFile Earphones Award for narration; and the nonfiction exposé The Cyanide Canary, a Washington Post best book of the year. He is the recipient of the Nancy Pearl Book Award for fiction and a three-time winner of the Friends of Mystery Spotted Owl Award for best novel set in the Pacific Northwest. He is a two-time finalist for the Thriller Awards and the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction, as well as a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award for mystery and the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Awards. His books are sold in more than twenty-five countries and have been translated into more than two dozen languages.

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