Robin Lockwood, a young new criminal defense attorney, agrees to take a job with an Oregon-based law firm just in time to catch a major case in New York Times bestselling author Phillip Margolin’s (Violent Crimes, etc.) new standalone novel, The Third Victim.
Two prostitutes were murdered, and a third escaped. Meredith Fenner, like her two friends, was tortured, raped, and held in captivity. Yet she managed to escape and goes to the police, before leading them back to the cabin she was held in.
It turns out that the cabin is owned by Alex Mason, an arrogant attorney who has a reputation for being rude and difficult. As detectives build a case against him, they find Mason’s DNA at the crime scene, and his younger wife confirms to the police that Alex has a kinky, slightly perverted sexual appetite. When pressed for details, Alex’s wife, Allison, shares some of his favorite moves from his playbook — which happen to line up perfectly with things Meredith Fenner claims were done to her. It all seems to add up, but Mason is adamant he’s innocent and hires bigshot defense attorney Regina Barrister, known as “The Sorceress” for her unmatched ability to get her clients off the hook.
While Alex Mason feels good about his odds now that Regina is on the payroll and has agreed to represent him, what he doesn’t know is that the iconic lawyer has a secret of her own, one that the newly hired former MMA fighter turned attorney, Robin Lockwood, picks up on. Though she’s smart and has good instincts, not to mention a fighter’s determination to keep punching, Lockwood is a courtroom neophyte, and a case of this magnitude is something she’s nowhere close to being ready to handle on her own.
As things get underway and Regina begins to mount her defense, she’s plagued by memory lapses and other cognitive issues, which she’s unwilling to discuss or acknowledge. That leaves Robin scrambling to help, which she does by trying to connect Meredith Fenner’s case to past sexual abuse and assault cases. That line of questioning leads her to a dirty cop named Arnold Prater, who checks out as a plausible suspect until Regina pulls rank and orders Robin to stop walking down that rabbit hole.
Caught between a rock and a hard place, Robin must figure out what, exactly, is going on with her boss, and why she won’t pursue another suspect who, if proven to be the actual murderer, would result in their client going free. Things ramp up as the story unfolds, and questions are eventually answered — though most readers will see them coming.
While there’s a lot of misdirection and side plots, sadly, it amounts to very little payoff. A good chunk of the book, overall, feels like filler, and Margolin’s latest effort does deserve to be knocked for that.
However, there’s a lot of good, too. While the tension never quite reaches the levels teased early on, the book charges ahead thanks to a juicy premise. As one of the nation’s top attorneys, known for her quick wits, sharp cross-examination, and steel-trap-like mind, suddenly begins to show cracks in her previously indestructible armor, which she conceals from her clients and everyone in the courtroom. Suddenly, the burden falls to an intriguing new character, who must weigh her moral compass against her desire to become a successful lawyer.
That is the part of The Third Victim that works very well, and while readers may wish that was the angle Phillip Margolin focused on the whole time, there’s enough attention there to attract both crime readers and fans of legal thrillers.
Author: Phillip Margolin
Pages: 320 (Hardcover)
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Release Date: March 6, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 6.0/10
Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck is the editor-in-chief of The Real Book Spy, and one of the thriller genre’s most well-recognized critics. He currently lives in southwest Michigan with his wife and their five children. For more information, make sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook!