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Review: ‘The Darkest Place’ isn’t a bright crime novel

March 7, 2022 GMT
This cover image released by Minotaur shows "The Darkest Place" by Phillip Margolin. (Minotaur via AP)
This cover image released by Minotaur shows "The Darkest Place" by Phillip Margolin. (Minotaur via AP)
This cover image released by Minotaur shows "The Darkest Place" by Phillip Margolin. (Minotaur via AP)
This cover image released by Minotaur shows "The Darkest Place" by Phillip Margolin. (Minotaur via AP)
This cover image released by Minotaur shows "The Darkest Place" by Phillip Margolin. (Minotaur via AP)

“The Darkest Place” by Phillip Margolin (Minotaur)

Plot elements in “The Darkest Place,” Phillip Margolin’s fifth legal thriller featuring Portland, Oregon, lawyer Robbin Lockwood, include a bitter divorce, a looted investment firm, a surrogate mother who wants her baby back, a kidnapping, a pair of thuggish debt collectors, two criminal trials, torture and four brutal murders.

Yet the novel is so tedious that reading it is a chore.

The writing is clear but often drab and graceless. Except for Lockwood, the characters are not well developed. Minor characters, including some who appear only once, are pointlessly described in detail. The courtroom scenes are annoyingly repetitious, regurgitating details that were disclosed earlier in the text. The dialogue rarely resembles the way real people talk, the voices of police detectives, lawyers, expert witnesses, and thugs so similar that speakers are indistinguishable without authorial attributions.

The author, whose 25 previous thrillers have sometimes made The New York Times bestseller list, does too much telling and not enough showing. He relates key developments in a ponderous, droning narrative instead of developing scenes that could bring the story alive for the reader. He does this even when revealing the depravity of the villain of the piece in the book’s closing moments.

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Meanwhile, the complex, far-fetched plot unwinds at a plodding pace.

As the story begins, Lockwood is shattered by the murder of her husband. Nevertheless, she agrees to represent Marjorie Lohman, a Portland woman whose husband has been tortured and killed after embezzling his investment firm and hiding his family’s assets in a divorce proceeding.

When police inform her that her husband is dead, Lohman laughs and declares she’s glad to be rid of him, making herself the prime suspect.

Fearful of being charged with murder, and claiming that her life has been threatened by debt collectors looking for the hidden money, Lohman flees the state. Settling in a small Midwestern town, she changes her name. Desperate for cash, she agrees to become a surrogate mother for $40,000.

After giving birth, she assaults the baby’s new mother, kidnaps the child, and is arrested for assault and child abuse. As Lockwood defends her at trial, police from Portland arrive with a warrant charging Lohman with murdering her husband.

Lockwood performs her usual courtroom magic in both cases, but the author has a final surprise in store for the reader.

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Bruce DeSilva, winner of the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award, is the author of the Mulligan crime novels including “The Dread Line.”