Thursday, July 19, 2018

A Lawyer Searching for a Lost Heir Finds Trouble in the Northern Sonoran Desert

This is the second novel from John Robert Schmierer, following Ocean Boulevard, and as good as that book was, this one is even better. At the center of the novel is Benjamin Holt, a partner in a law firm in Newport Beach, California. Holt's wife, Susan, has just been diagnosed with breast cancer and, although the doctors insist that they caught it in time and that Susan will need only minor surgery, this is never good news.

Then, at a time when Holt should be tightly focused on his family situation, one of the firm's extremely wealthy clients, Logan Bigelow, is killed when his private plane crashes on approach into O'Hare Airport in Chicago. Holt had just drawn an addendum to Bigelow's trust, setting aside ten million dollars for an unnamed beneficiary. It turns out that thirty years earlier, Bigelow had an illegitimate daughter who was given up for adoption upon her birth. Bigelow's wife has died a few months earlier and, since she is no longer alive to be hurt by the disclosure, Bigelow wanted to provide for his daughter, assuming that she is still alive and can be found. If not, the ten million goes to Bigelow's foundation.

Not surprisingly, the foundation will not be too happy about potentially losing the money should the heir be found. Holt's partners are even less happy, because Holt had not yet had a chance to bring them up to speed on this development and they fear that the foundation's board will be angry with them. Holt is thus charged with finding either the daughter or proof of the fact that she has died, and it's clear that his job is on the line. If he doesn't quickly produce a solution to this dilemma, he will be out of work at the worst possible time. Naturally, he would prefer to remain by his wife's side until her surgery is over, but given that his family's economic security is on the line, that is not an option. 

Holt's investigation takes him to Phoenix, Arizona where the child was born. The trail is very thin, and simply by asking questions about the girl's mother, Holt exposes his mission and himself to some very unsavory and dangerous characters. The money at stake here is ultimately far larger than ten million dollars and certainly more than enough to put a lot of people, Benjamin Holt in particular, in very grave danger.

Holt is a very sympathetic protagonist, and Schmierer captures perfectly the strain that he is under, squeezed between his family obligations on the one hand and the demands of his job on the other. The rest of the characters are very well drawn, good guys and bad guys alike. Schmierer clearly knows the territory, and the settings in and around the Phoenix metro area are a strength of the book. The plot moves swiftly, with lots of great twists and turns, and all in all, this book is a very good read.

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