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Book Review: Dead Certain, by Adam Mitzner

A lawyer with a secret life finds out her little sister has one too.


Dead Certain

Thomas & Mercer, 2017, 348 pages



Ella Broden is living a double life.

By day, Ella works as a buttoned-up attorney on some of the city's most grueling cases. By night, she pursues her passion for singing in the darkest clubs of Manhattan.

No one knows her secret, not even Charlotte, the younger sister she practically raised. But it seems she's not the only one in the family with something to hide. When Charlotte announces she's sold her first novel, Ella couldn't be more thrilled...until she gets a call that her sister's gone missing.

Ella starts investigating with the help of Detective Gabriel Velasquez, an old flame in the NYPD, and what she finds is shocking. If art imitates life, then her sister's novel may contain details of her real-life affairs. And any one of her lovers could be involved in her disappearance.

Desperate to bring Charlotte home, Ella works through her list of suspects, matching fictitious characters with flesh-and-blood men. But will it be too late to save the sister she only thought she knew?



My second legal thriller by Adam Mitzner. This one was a little different, being written with a first-person female protagonist as narrator, except half the novel is meta as the main character, Ella, reads a novel written by her sister, Charlotte, which presciently foretells Charlotte's murder and who the murderer is. And then towards the end, instead of dragging out the suspense, we get alternating chapters from the murderer's POV. Here, I think Mitzner was trying to experiment a bit by giving us a glimpse into the mindset of a killer. It wasn't entirely successful, but it was interesting.

Ella is a lawyer in Manhattan. She quit her job as a DA a few years ago to work for her father, a famous high-priced criminal defense attorney. Feeling stifled by her button-down life as Daddy's flunky, and the fact that she gave up her dream of being a singer to become a lawyer after her mother died, Ella moonlights as a husky-voiced, tight pants-wearing singer at dive bars, which is mostly just a plot device for her to meet one of the characters in the book.

Meanwhile, free spirited sister Charlotte has just sold a novel, and then disappears. As the days go by, Ella becomes convinced her sister was murdered. She starts reading the manuscript Charlotte gave her, knowing her sister always wrote very thinly veiled pastiches of her own life and her family. In it, the main character is juggling three different boyfriends, all of whom Charlotte (the author) establishes have a possible motive to kill her. Ella quickly figures out that this did indeed mirror Charlotte's actual life, so she goes about trying to identify her vanished sister's boyfriends and figuring out which one killed her in real life.

It's an interesting idea to run with, but I thought the degree to which Charlotte's novel actually predicts her murder was far too prescient (Charlotte may have had an inkling she was in danger, but if she knew that many details about which of her lovers was going to kill her, and the hows and whys, one would think she'd have done something more than leave a manuscript with her sister beforehand). Likewise, the mystery could have been prolonged a bit more effectively; I felt like about midpoint in the novel, the author just decided to drop the whodunnit and switch to a cat and mouse game between Ella and the killer. Also, the twist regarding who the killer was was telegraphed very early.

This wasn't even really a legal thriller per se as very little of the story happens in a courtroom. I liked the plot, and Mitzner's writing is definitely good enough to keep you turning pages. Hoping that he stretches out a bit more in future novels.


Also by Adam Mitzner: My review of A Conflict of Interest.




My complete list of book reviews.
Tags: adam mitzner, books, reviews
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