A murder mystery that’s perfect to read on the beach

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It’s finally time to break out the beach towels and enjoy a good book while soaking up the summer heat. 

East Lansing lawyer Charles McLavry, who writes under the pen name Charles Cutter, has written “The Crooked Angel,” the fourth mystery in his popular legal thriller series that follows hotshot lawyer Burr Lafayette. 

Once again, we find Lafayette duck hunting when his on-again, off-again paramour Suzanne shows up at his duck blind to ask for his help in defending an accused murderer. We later discover the accused murderer is Brian, the husband of Suzanne’s sister, Lisa. 

Be forewarned, there are several spoiler alerts ahead. The book begins at Christmas time, but since murder cases drag on and on it is well into summer before Lafayette and his trusty crew — his partner Jacob and his legal assistant Eve — move north to Petoskey for the trial.

The book is set in the mid-’80s, so it is a prequel to Cutter’s other books in the Lafayette series. The murder in question, which was ruled an accidental shooting, took place six years earlier and has been reopened by an aggressive prosecutor. The prosecutor, who is considering a run for the Michigan Senate, utilizes new technology to determine that the so-called accidental shooting was actually premeditated murder.

It will be up to Lafayette and his team to ferret out the truth and provide a defense for their client, who seems to be withholding information on the accident. The trustworthiness of Lisa and Suzanne is also questionable.

As per usual in a legal thriller, most of the action takes place in the courtroom. The presiding judge seems to be leaning toward a conviction, which presents problems for Lafayette’s defense.

Along the way, Cutter leaves clues like breadcrumbs for the reader to follow as they slowly reach the dramatic courtroom conclusion. 

“I want readers to follow the hints. I give them just enough, so when they get to the end they go, ‘Oh yeah, I remember that,’” he said. “The trick in writing a mystery is that the hints can’t be so obvious, nor can they be so obscure. Either way, the plot is ruined.”

Readers will love the many legal issues that come up during the trial that Lafayette is forced to wade through.

“I always try to get a legal twist that asks, ‘Why is the law this way?’ In ‘The Crooked Angel,’ there is a doozy of a legal twist,” he said. “I try not to tie everything up. There are some unanswered questions.”

Many of the tertiary characters in “The Crooked Angel” are well developed.

“I try to show the characters Lisa and Brian as likeable, but not likeable at the book’s outcome. There is a distinct darkside in the book as the plot develops.”

Jacob is a pot smoking legal genius and a foil to Lafayette with his fastidious actions. He’s the kind of guy that has the crust cut off his ham and cheese sandwich. There is the local judge, who seems to enjoy making rulings that thwart Lafayette’s defense. Then you have Kay, a real estate agent who would like to have Lafayette come-a-courting. And readers won’t forget the local gunsmith, who takes over her father’s business and becomes a critical witness for the defense. 

Since the trial is held in Petoskey, readers once again get a full-blown tour of the area from both land and sea. Lafayette and his trusty dog Zeke find themselves in great peril during a couple of these trips. 

Although Lafayette is a far cry from his former silk-stocking law firm, which he left to go on his own, Cutter, sounding a little like a television ad, says, “Lafayette is really smart; never gives up, is very loyal and enjoys the fight.”

“On the downside he’s cocky and arrogant. He doesn’t know when to quit; suffers no fool and is terrible with money. That’s without adding his ongoing relationship problems,” Cutter added.

Cutter said the pandemic and online shopping really changed the book industry. “There were no in-person events for authors and bookstores had limited access.” 

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