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Equivocal Death: A Novel Hardcover – January 24, 2001
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The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Harvard Law School graduate Kate Paine, heroine of Amy Gutman's Equivocal Death, is supposed to be smart. But as the new hire at Samson & Mills, one of the country's most powerful and successful firms, she can't figure out who's behind the murder of partner Madeleine Waters. She's also gullible enough to buy the lies the other partners are spinning to keep the firm from collapsing, or maybe she's too busy to figure out their deceptions. When she's not working 90 hours a week, she's fretting over the law school romance that went up in flames and left her unwilling to trust any man except Justin Daniels, her platonic buddy from her Cambridge days, and Carter Mills, the senior partner who hired her. She barely has time to spare for the appealing inner-city teenager she's supposed to be mentoring, but Josie understands Kate enough to know that when she's late for an appointment, she must be in trouble.
Unfortunately, Josie's not around when Kate has an ugly encounter with the firm's biggest client--an incident Kate keeps to herself, which further underlines the reader's impression that she's too dumb to have made it as far as she has in the cutthroat world she inhabits. Certainly, she's too slow on the uptake to see the clues that point to the murderer, whom most readers will have figured out many pages before the conclusion of this tepid thriller. Gutman's writing is clear enough, but her characters are one-dimensional. Fans who aren't too choosy about their legal thrillers or just can't wait for the next Grisham may not be bothered by these shortcomings. --Jane Adams
From Publishers Weekly
Gutman's debut woman-in-peril crime thriller set amid the skullduggery of a prestigious New York City law firm provides doses of good, light entertainment but suffers from a serious case of plot overload and red herringitis. Weaving her way through the tangle is Kate Paine, a rising star at Samson & Mills and a favorite of the firm's managing partner, Carter Mills. Soon after immersing herself in an important sexual harassment case, Paine is taken aside by Madeleine Waters, one of the firm's few female partners and Mills's former lover, and is cryptically told to be careful. Before Paine has time to ask for an explanation, Waters's body is found in the Hudson River. Paine, horrified but intrigued by Waters's death, starts poking around and uncovers sinister evidence of bitter rivalries, sexual affairs and a billing scandal at Samson & Mills. When she is sexually assaulted one night in her office, she begins to fear for her life. Is it coincidence that she resembles Madeleine Waters? Then Carter Mills is shot. Did he commit suicide? In between these breathless twists and turns, Gutman, an attorney, colorfully describes what life is like for young lawyers in high-powered law firms. Her story, despite its many unnecessary sidelights and extraneous characters, maintains a measure of suspense until the end. Paine, however, disappoints as a marquee player. Weak-willed and prone to flee from trouble, she's hardly the take-charge type truly prepared to battle evil. Agent, Nick Ellison. (Jan.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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I must say that the most satisfying thing about the book is the way in which Amy Gutman plays on the somewhat "normal" psychological profile of a young woman with a bit of an imposter complex, who, due to her own personal history and the over-assuming law firm culture, completely subordinates her own needs and physical well-being for her corporate sponsors. In an utterly chilling moment, her intense sense of loyalty to her employer crosses over from dutiful to dangerous.
After completing Equivocal Death, I had that sweet ambivalence that only comes at the end of a wonderful event. I felt the investment had been well worth the wait. All of the pieces came together. Yet, at the sime time, I felt a sense of emptiness and loss rush in. It's over and I just got to know the protagonist, Kate and the other characters.
The book started out great. Gutman does a nice job capturing the flavor of New York City and the life in a big law firm. The plot is certainly noteworthy. Sexual harassment is a hot topic and fits in nicely.
The main character, Kate Paine, comes across as likable and believable.
But I think the book lost steam toward the end. I figured out who the killer was fairly easily. Plus the killer has "talking killer" syndrome. That's where the killer/villain spells out in dialogue exactly why he/she did the things they did.
There is a subplot with a teen-age girl whose mother is a drug addict that is completely pointless. I think it was just there to make the book longer. If you take it out it doesn't affect the story at all.
Plus, Kate Paine doesn't really SOLVE anything. Evidence turns up that she doesn't really do anything with.
Also one thing that struck me as odd. Many of the characters are referred to by their full names. Carter Mills this or Martin Drescher that. The only character I know that goes by his full name is Charlie Brown.
But it's a first novel so you have to allow room for growth. I think Ms. Gutman has a future with being a full-time author. If she does another Kate Paine mystery, I hope she makes it more of a mystery.
She feels honored to be chosen as an associate attorney of such a prestigious group. Her first assignment is to a controversial case of sexual harassment(quite over the head for a novice, young lawyer, no matter how bright she is). Her glamorous senior partner receives a mysterious e-mail luring her to an equivocal death. Or is it?
Kate has to go on the defense trying to figure out who did the old girl in, as many suspects surface. There may be two or more meanings to 'equivocal death,' homicide, accident, suicide or natural death. It could be any of her colleagues or, could it be the hairdressser? You must read to see how things end in just a few weeks.
Kate decides to move on with her life as these seedy cases are not what she was trained for at Harvard to face and to endure such harsh treatment.
This is a riveting crime story on a high level. No one is immune from murderous urges and the need for revenge, but most of us are sane enough not to follow through. This is a first novel, which got my attention. Since then, she has written IDENTITY IN DEMOCRACY and THE ANNIVERSARY.