Thursday, 26 May 2016

Presumption of Death by Perri O’Shaughnessy, 2003

Entry for Friday’s Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott’s blog Pattinase. P.S.: This week Todd Mason is hosting FFB over at his blog Sweet Freedom.

Presumption of Death is the ninth book in the Nina Reilly legal suspense and mystery series written by Perri O’Shaughnessy, the pseudonym of sisters Mary and Pamela O'Shaughnessy of California.

Nina Reilly is a successful lawyer with a penchant for difficult cases. She practices out of Lake Tahoe. In this novel, however, Nina comes to Carmel Valley in Monterey County to give her life a new direction. She lives with her boyfriend, private investigator Paul van Wagoner, with whom she shares a close but complicated relationship.

Carmel Valley is where Nina faces the biggest test of her career. Just as she is settling down in the place where she started her career, Wish, the 21-year-old son of her former assistant Sandy Whitefeather, is arrested on suspicion of lighting fires in the valley, destroying homes and property, and causing the suspected death of his no-good jobless friend Danny Cervantes.

Wish is close to both Nina and Paul who feel responsible for his welfare and want to clear his name. He reminds Nina of her own estranged son. Paul feels they owe it to Sandy to get her son out of jail. Wish has been assisting the PI on his cases. The three are like family without being related.

Did Wish ignite the fires? Did he use arson to kill his friend? Or was he framed by one or more people with a dark and sinister motive?

A bigger question—is Danny really dead? The body found after the last fire was charred and was identified as Danny’s from a belt decorated with conchos, small silver medallions. The autopsy revealed a skull injury. Wish is taken into custody because a woman named Ruthie, who picks up stray cats, claimed to have seen the two men in a car and presumed they were the arsonists. Later in the book, the cat lady is found mysteriously dead in her car.

Apart from Ruthie, Presumption of Death has several interesting characters, all of whom are suspects in the eyes of Nina and Paul. There are married couples, old and new, harbouring secrets and fantasies; a creepy and unpleasant young man called Robert ‘Coyote’ Johnson who lives on a dirt road in a canyon with Nate, his terrified younger brother; and Danny’s reclusive but charming uncle Ben Cervantes.

Any of these people could have started the fires in a premeditated move to halt the rapid development of Carmel Valley—the replacement of cottages with condos and mansions, the displacement of old habitants and the handicapped—and let Wish take the rap. Wish and Danny were local Native Americans and were anti-development.

Presumption of Death is an engaging story with some implied elements, like the real wildfires in Carmel Valley in California.
The Nina-Paul relationship is realistic. Although they have their differences, with Nina being more headstrong of the two, they are on the same wavelength. They sound like a newly-married couple next door. The pace is slow in the first-half of the 443-page book, as the author describes the village atmosphere and the ways of disparate neighbours in some detail. The narrative style is elegant but casual, almost conversational. At one point I wanted to put away the book (which I never do) but I was glad I read through, as the suspense built up in the second-half with the action shifting to the courtroom

Perri O’Shaughnessy paints a deceptive picture of Carmel Valley whose landscape is not as beautiful as it would seem and whose residents are not as peace-loving as they appear to be. Nina and Paul pursue their investigation with relentless zeal and considerable risk, as they unravel the chilling truth in, what I thought, was an unexpected twist to a decent legal thriller.


The Nina Reilly novels

01. Motion to Suppress, 1995
02. Invasion of Privacy, 1996
03. Obstruction of Justice, 1997
04. Breach of Promise, 1998
05. Acts of Malice, 1999
06. Move to Strike, 2000
07. Writ of Execution, 2001
08. Unfit to Practice, 2002
09. Presumption of Death, 2003
10. Unlucky in Law, 2004
11. Case of Lies, 2005
12. Show No Fear, 2008
13. Dreams of the Dead, 2011

28 comments:

  1. Not a series I have come across to date, but sounds good. I like legal thrillers.

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    1. Moira, it was a decent book though I'm not inclined to read another one in the series very soon.

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    2. Like Moira, I'm sometimes in the mood for a good legal thriller. I enjoy the legal thrillers by Robert K. Tanenbaum (ghost-written by Michael Gruber).

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    3. George, Thanks for mentioning Robert K. Tanenbaum's books. I have not read any. I like a lot of suspense in my legal thrillers.

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  2. I'm doing it this week. Have you read Kate Wilhelm's legal novels yet? I'm a big fan of hers.

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    1. Todd, thanks for doing the honours this week. I'm not familiar with Kate Wilhelm. If you're a fan of her legal novels, then I should check out her work.

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  3. Ooh, new series for me - thanks Prashant, sounds good!

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    1. Sergio, the author and the series were new for me till I picked up this book late last year. I think the writers are quite well-known in the US.

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  4. I have heard of the authors and this series, but I had no idea they had written so many books. The setting would be interesting. And wildfires are very much a reality in most of California.

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    1. Tracy, we often read about wildfires in California, especially around L.A., in papers here. That setting in the book is well done.

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  5. I'm glad that you enjoyed this book, Prashant, and found that it was worth it to finish it. I think the authors create a very real sense of setting, and I like the Nina Reilly character.

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    1. Margot, I did eventually, but I wish the pace was quicker. Nina Reilly's is a well-drawn character, a very determined and conscientious protagonist.

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  6. I've heard of the author but that's about it. Probably stick with what I already have, but I do like a legal thriller every so often!

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    1. Fair enough, Col. I will come back to this series at some point in future.

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  7. I had no idea Perri O'Shaughnessy was two women. For some reason, I always thought of the writer as male.

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    1. Kelly, I had never heard of Perri O'Shaughnessy till I bought this book. They seem to have a perfect writing chemistry. I think one of the sisters is a lawyer by profession.

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  8. I don't really enjoy legal thrillers so doesn't seem to be for me. But I like the fact that there are Native American characters in this.Thanks for introducing a new author, Prashant.

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    1. Hi Neer! You're welcome. The book was a chance find. There are many curious characters in the story.

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  9. Enthusiasm was building in me for Presumption of Death, Prashant, until I got to 443 pages. Oops. That's about twice as long as I would expect a mystery to be. And, like you, I'm reluctant to abandon a novel once I've started reading. Then again, like Neer, I too am drawn to tales involving American Indians, so I just might give this one a look.

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    1. Mathew, if a reader is used to fast-paced mysteries or legal thrillers, then this is not the book. At 443 pages, it was quite lengthy. There were moments when I said to myself, "Cut to the chase! Cut to the chase!"

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  10. Fine review, Prashant. Haven't read any of their books, but they sound mighty intriguing.

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    1. Oscar, thank you. I hope to read one or two more in the series in the not-too-distant future.

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  11. If they live in Carmel Valley, they must have some money, that's expensive property!

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    1. Richard, while the protagonist Nina Reilly lives in Carmal Valley, where the story is set, the authors live in Northern California, I think. I read about the real wildfires in the Valley while reviewing the book.

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  12. Thank you for your fine posting/review. I think I will add this one to my "wish list" for this afternoon's trip to the library.
    All the best from the U.S. Gulf coast and Past Perfect Murders.
    Tim
    http://pastperfectmurders.blogspot.com/2016/06/treasure-hunt-by-andrea-camilleri.html

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    1. Tim, thank you. This was my first novel by Perri O’Shaughnessy. I hope to read one or two more in the series, probably start with the introduction of Nina Reilly.

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