Unlucky in Law

I have a mixed reaction to Unlucky in Law, by Perri O’Shaughnessy. It’s a decent enough legal mystery, more-or-less in the John Grisham or Scott Turow vein. And it has an undeniably interesting plot, involving the Russian-American community in Monterey.

Never knew that there was a sizeable Russian-American community in Monterey? Neither did I. If the novel is to be believed — and I see no reason why it shouldn’t be — there are some major contrasts with the Russian-American community that I am familiar with. My Russian-American friends and students in the Boston area — primarily Brookline and Newton, to be specific — are almost all Jewish, but the Monterey one is mostly Russian Orthodox, at least in the novel. This is integral to the plot, because of tie-ins between the Russian Orthodox Church and the former Russian royal family. Since I don’t want to give anything away, I can’t be more specific than that, but suffice it to say that this story is really a remake of one that has been written many times before, starting with Dorothy Sayers’s wonderful novel, Have His Carcase, which is the only major work of fiction in which the Playfair Cipher is a major plot point… but I digress…

Anyhow, the feeling of “been there, done that” is the main cause of my mixed reaction to this otherwise satisfactory book. The secondary cause is O’Shaughnessy’s tendency to signal upcoming plot developments, so the reader frequently knows what’s coming next. Nevertheless, if you like legal mysteries, give Unlucky in Law a try; on balance there’s more good than bad there.

Categories: Books