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Fox Is Framed: A Leo Maxwell Mystery


Fox Is Framed: A Leo Maxwell Mystery

The Leo Maxwell series by Lachlan Smith has established itself as a hybrid, consisting of equal parts courtroom thriller and mystery story. The focus has been on Leo Maxwell, an inexperienced but driven attorney in San Francisco whose brother, Teddy, made a name for himself as an in-demand --- some might say notorious --- defense attorney whose career was siderailed by an assassination attempt in a crowded restaurant. The hit was unsuccessful but left Teddy with severe brain damage from which he may or may not completely recover.

Leo has stepped into the breach with mixed results, aiding Nina Schuyler (Teddy’s partner) on both sides of the courtroom door. His sudden immersion into Teddy’s professional life has not been without its surprises, most notably being a file belonging to a client who Leo knows well: their own father. Lawrence Maxwell had been tried and convicted of killing his wife --- the mother of Leo and Teddy --- over 20 years before. Unbeknownst to Leo, at the time of the near-fatal attack on him, Teddy had been vigorously pursuing an appeal on behalf of their father.

"Lachlan Smith really has something going on here, consisting of a plot that has held up well over the course of three books and has been sustained by interesting, if occasionally quirky, characters."

Got all of that? It brings us to FOX IS FRAMED, the third volume in the series (after BEAR IS BROKEN and LION PLAYS ROUGH). While he has been a fish out of water for a good part of the first two installments, Leo shows great adaptability, taking his bounces inside and outside the courtroom. The San Francisco area where the author initially dropped Leo, gasping for air, is not your Fisherman’s Wharf. Leo is closer to the Tenderloin than Twin Peaks, and was ill-equipped to deal with it initially. His baptisms-by-fire help prepare him for what is about to happen in FOX IS FRAMED. Leo, with some surprise and, yes, consternation, is dealing with an unforeseen circumstance: a San Francisco judge has granted Lawrence a new trial, after viewing evidence of prosecutorial misconduct. It seems that the prosecution withheld evidence from the defense during Lawrence’s trial that might have established reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors.

No sooner has a new trial been ordered, though, than a prison snitch turns up murdered. The only suspect is none other than Lawrence; so it is, then, that Leo and Nina find themselves tasked with defending him at the new trial for the murder of Leo’s mother, as well as defending him at the trial for the killing of the prison stoolie. Leo is not convinced of his father’s innocence, but reluctantly does the right thing --- that being his job. At the same time, Teddy is showing occasional flashes of his old brilliance as the damaged synapses slowly but steadily repair themselves to the extent possible. What makes the entire process interesting is that it is sometimes difficult to tell when Teddy is showing sparks of insight or is merely showing sparks, period. Meanwhile, Lawrence may be innocent of both murders. Or one and not the other. Or neither. To find out what is behind which door, you’ll have to read FOX IS FRAMED. Or, then again, you may not find out at all.

Lachlan Smith really has something going on here, consisting of a plot that has held up well over the course of three books and has been sustained by interesting, if occasionally quirky, characters. Whatever he does after FOX IS FRAMED will almost certainly be worth a look.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 24, 2015

Fox Is Framed: A Leo Maxwell Mystery
by Lachlan Smith

  • Publication Date: April 5, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Mysterious Press
  • ISBN-10: 0802125042
  • ISBN-13: 9780802125040