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Panther's Prey: A Leo Maxwell Mystery


Panther's Prey: A Leo Maxwell Mystery

I happened to pick up PANTHER’S PREY after an extended philosophical discussion with someone concerning what I privately call “The Job Syndrome.” Job was the Old Testament figure who had to endure a series of seemingly never-ending setbacks, trials and curses designed to test his faith. We all know someone who, like Job, seems to be wearing a cosmic “kick me” sign yet soldiers on.

Leo Maxwell is such a person, as thoroughly documented in Lachlan Smith’s series. PANTHER’S PREY is the fourth book starring Smith’s ill-beset but steadfast San Francisco attorney and is by far the best installment in the series, even surpassing BEAR IS BROKEN, the award-winning opening volume. It is a bit darker yet more laser-focused than Smith’s previous work, and seems to draw more from his own real-life experience as a San Francisco attorney than before.

After the first 30 pages or so of PANTHER’S PREY, Smith devotes a short chapter to an invaluable summary of what has gone before. It allows newcomers to jump on while enabling faithful readers --- particularly those of a certain age --- to refresh their memories. Plus, he inserts it at the perfect point in the narrative.

"PANTHER’S PREY is the fourth book starring Smith’s ill-beset but steadfast San Francisco attorney and is by far the best installment in the series, even surpassing BEAR IS BROKEN, the award-winning opening volume."

Leo has forsaken private practice to work in the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office. It is a thankless job --- literally so, as he notes early on --- with courtroom triumphs usually being the largest reward. Leo’s latest is the acquittal of Randall Rodriguez, an accused rapist who readily confessed to the act. But Rodriguez has a history of compulsive confessions, which, along with a somewhat lackluster police investigation, results in Leo and the P.D.’s office not so much winning the case as the prosecutor losing it. He is paired with Jordan Walker, an inexperienced but very promising attorney who is employed by a prominent bay area law firm.

Almost immediately following the trial, Leo and Jordan become involved with each other in an intense relationship that is abruptly terminated when Jordan is found raped and brutally murdered in her apartment. Interestingly enough, Rodriguez promptly confesses to Jordan’s murder and is arrested. But Leo remains what we call these days a “person of interest,” given his involvement with Jordan and the fact that he was the last person besides the killer to see her alive. The sudden death of someone he cared for throws him off his courtroom game, resulting in his being put on leave from the P.D.’s office until Rodriguez’s trial is over.

Launching an investigation of his own, Leo learns that Jordan had begun investigating the possibility that a serial rapist --- who she nicknamed “the panther” --- had been preying on women in the San Francisco area for years and had been responsible for the rape of which Rodriguez had been accused of previously. He also suspects that Jordan had experienced some difficulties at her employer firm, which led to her de facto sabbatical. The last case she worked on was one in which she and the firm’s partner successfully represented a construction company that had been accused of engaging in questionable business practices. Since Jordan started working for the P.D.’s office almost immediately after that trial concluded, Leo wonders if she may have had some difficulty with the case or the firm’s partner. What he remains most puzzled about, though, is the mysterious text she received the last time they were together.

Meanwhile, difficulties and tragedies in Leo’s past catch up with him and impede, yet don’t prevent, him from carrying on his investigation. Someone is attempting to put him out of commission one way or another, and they actually succeed, for a moment or two. His main resource is a clever intellect, though it may not be enough this time.

PANTHER’S PREY ends on a somewhat grim though very interesting note. Smith obviously has plans for his creation that will move things forward for some time to come…if Leo survives. Jump on now and see what happens.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 22, 2016

Panther's Prey: A Leo Maxwell Mystery
by Lachlan Smith

  • Publication Date: April 11, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Mysterious Press
  • ISBN-10: 0802126707
  • ISBN-13: 9780802126702