I’m not going to lie, I haven’t picked up a book in the mystery/thriller/whodunnit genre for a while. I read The Girl on the Train and The Woman in the Window around the same time (and we all know Gone Girl is still playing a role in pop culture these days), and I was just finding the genre to be very repetitive and a little predictable (even though the twists were getting bigger and bigger), so I put it down for a while. Nothing was really speaking to me. Besides, I listen to a ridiculous number of crime podcasts, so that itch was being scratched on my long commute every day.
When I came across The Perfect Alibi by Phillip Margolin, however, I was intrigued by the premise. The blurb read like a season of Serial, and I absolutely needed to read it.
A young woman accuses a prominent local college athlete of rape. Convicted with the help of indisputable DNA evidence, the athlete swears his innocence and threatens both his lawyer and his accuser as he’s sent to prison. Not long after, there’s another rape and the DNA test shows that the same person committed both rapes—which is seemingly impossible since the man convicted of the first rape was in prison at the time of the second one. Now, the convicted athlete, joined by a new lawyer, is granted a new trial and bail. Shortly thereafter, his original lawyer disappears and his law partner is murdered.
Robin Lockwood is a young lawyer with a prestigious small law firm and a former MMA fighter who helped pay for Yale Law School with her bouts. She is representing the victim of the first rape for her civil lawsuit against her rapist, who is now convinced the rapist is stalking her and trying to intimidate her. At the same time, another client is up on a murder charge—one that should be dismissed as self-defense—but the D.A. trying the case is determined to bring it to trial. Now she has to mastermind two impossible cases, trying to find the hidden truth that links the two of them.
Phillip Margolin, the master of the legal thriller, returns in one of his twistiest, most compelling crime novels yet.
I’m not going to lie, I needed to rely heavily on the press release to be able to break down the synopsis for the blog… there is a lot going on in this one, and a lot of people to keep track of. While I was making my way through the book I realized that some of these characters (Robin, Jeff) had been introduced in a previous book of Margolin’s, which probably would have helped me a little bit, though the author does a great job of getting the reader up to speed.
I’ve never read a Margolin book before, and it’s very possible that this follows his regular style of writing, but I felt like there was a little too much going on. There were too many cases to keep track of, too many suspects, and too many narratives that didn’t really end up going anywhere and were just thrown in to throw the reader off the scent. I kept having to go back a couple of chapters (which is hard to do with an eBook) to see who we were talking about. I wasn’t a constant flip back and forth, but it was definitely not something I enjoyed having to do. (If I were reading a physical book, I may not have the same feeling.)
I also have a bit of a problem with the book’s title, as I don’t really agree that anyone had a perfect alibi (so I’m not quite sure to whom the title is referring). And because of the title, I was kind of expecting a different kind of book.
I did really enjoy the fact that I didn’t figure out the main suspect until Robin, the protagonist, did. Every chapter I believed someone else was guilty, and I was suspicious of everyone, which I rarely get to experience when I read this kind of story. Some of the twists I saw coming, but not right from the beginning, which was nice. These elements were the main reason I kept turning to the next page.
A lot of the thrillers that I’ve read of late have been in the vein of Girl on the Train, with an unreliable narrator with a questionable moral compass. This is not that, and I appreciate it greatly.
If you’re a fan of unpredictable (at least to me) whodunnits and can distance yourself from the title, you will definitely find this to be a pleasant, enjoyable read. Look for it in stores March 5.
Food for thought
When I read the blurb, I was really hoping The Perfect Alibi was going to be a bit more of a courtroom drama than it was (I watch a lot of lawyer shows!). I haven’t read a good mystery/thriller that takes place in a courtroom in a really long time—in fact, I can’t think of any off the top of my head. Any recommendations?
“I’m forbidden by law to reveal anything a client tells me or anything I learn while I’m investigating the case. The attorney-client privilege has me handcuffed.” —Phillip Margolin, The Perfect Alibi
Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books for the advanced copy, and to Sebastian Pichler on Unsplash for the photo of the courthouse.