Woman with a Gun: A novel by Phillip Margolin

“Any picture you’ve seen do not do her justice. She is every teenage boy’s wet dream and she also has a very high IQ. That’s a perfect combination for a gold digger. I assume you know what a leech is.”

American author Phillip Margolin has a large fan base, and a long backlist of published novels, but for some reason I’d never heard of him. The eye-catching cover of his latest book, Woman with a Gun demanded attention, and since a brief look at the plot yielded the possibility of a femme fatale, I was in for the duration.

Woman with a Gun is a story within a story, moving backwards and then forwards in time but always centered on various characters connected to the unsolved murder case of a millionaire. The plot begins with would-be novelist, Stacey Kim who has relocated from the Midwest to Manhattan. She took a job as a receptionist in a legal firm thinking that the mind-numbingly boring job would give her time to ‘think’ about the great novel she intends to write, and opportunities to mingle with law clients and cherry pick through their “witty comments.” One lunch time, she heads to an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art and once there she finds herself at an exhibit of photography by Kathy Moran. There’s one photo that dominates the exhibit: Woman with a Gun. It’s a Pulitzer Prize winner, taken ten years before back in 2005 and depicts a woman in a wedding dress facing the ocean but holding an antique “long-barreled, six-shooter” behind her back. Stacey is intrigued by the photo, and certain there’s a story behind the strange setting, she “vowed to discover it.”

woman with a gunThen it’s back to 2005 and “the Cahill Case.” This section introduces one of the main characters, Jack Booth, employee of the Oregon Dept. of Justice District Attorney Assistance Program who is called to the crime scene at the cliff top Pacific Palisades mansion owned by now dead millionaire businessman, and renowned collector, Raymond Cahill. Cahill was married just the day before to Megan, the former wife of a professional football player. Now Raymond is dead, beaten and shot, and the vault housing his collection has been plundered. Meanwhile his bride, Megan, is found on the beach, still in her bridal gown, staring at the ocean, murder weapon in hand and with a head injury which could explain her complete loss of memory for the event…..

Local photographer, and former attorney, now waitress Kathy Moran captured the moment of Megan’s disorientation of the beach, and while that photo went on to win the Pulitzer Prize, the case was never solved–although to Jack Booth, Megan, the person who benefitted the most from her husband’s death– a gorgeous woman who, according to her ex-husband’s divorce attorney is nothing less than an extremely intelligent and manipulative gold digger, was the main suspect.

Then it’s back to a third time zone: this time it’s 2000, and we’re back in Jack Booth’s past as a hot shot prosecutor of murder cases and the episode that “marked the end of Jack’s ascent in the district attorney’s office” when he prosecuted a vicious criminal named Kilbride–“the type of guy who’ll take a few punches and give up. Then he’ll set your house on fire.”

Of course all these time periods: 2000, 2005, and 2015 are connected. Stacey Kim dumps her job and travels to the scene of the Cahill murder in order to gather research for a novel based on the crime. Her present day interest in the murder of Raymond Cahill wakes up the sleeping, unsolved murder case.

In spite of the time shifts which were not complicated and are clearly delineated, this was a quick easy read. I’ll admit that I was annoyed on page one by the description that Stacey “toiled” from 9-5 at the law office, for as tedious as it may be answering phones all day long, it’s not exactly the same as slaving in the mines. The choice of verb was unfortunate and threw me out of the novel almost immediately. Author Phillip Margolin is a New York Times Best-Selling author and taking a look at Goodreads, there are a number of loyal fans there who enjoy his work. Woman with a Gun is a page turner, no argument there, and while it’s well plotted the earlier sections of the book involving Jack Booth in 2000 & 2005 are riveting, so dropping those sections and picking up the story in the present cost the plot a great deal of momentum. Unfortunately the sections with Stacey Kim poking around town and stirring up memories were much weaker. Stacey is a shallow and not a particularly interesting character, and yet she’s required to pull 15 years of history and several unsolved murder cases behind her. Jack Booth, Megan and particularly Kathy Moran are much more interesting and flawed characters, and shifting the focus to Stacey–a character whose depth does not match the others–weakens the novel overall.

Review copy



Filed under Fiction, Margolin Phillip

7 responses to “Woman with a Gun: A novel by Phillip Margolin

  1. Great review, and very helpful as the premise was starting to sound very good up until your closing comments. I think I’ll pass on this one (and my TBR will thank you for it).

  2. Something about “She is every teenage boy’s wet dream and she also has a very high IQ.” doesn’t fly for me. It just seems a bit flat as description goes, and doesn’t really persuade me as dialogue. I know it’s unfair, but compare that to this:

    ‘It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.’

    • To defend the quote, it’s from someone’s mouth–someone who really dislikes one of the characters, so it’s not the author speaking per se.
      But as I said to Jacqui, the addition of Stacey Kim as a lead character only served to weaken the novel. And re: your quote, you never know with crime novels–there’s such a range. Some can really knock you sideways and change your world vision while others are marginal.

  3. I don’t think this is for me either but it’s great to hear about a new author.

  4. I was distracted by the first quote as well. First I thought like Max that it’s an unlikely combination and then I tried to find the French equivalent of wet dream and I still haven’t found it yet. (So I’ll have a look in the dictionary)

    Sorry you didn’t enjoy this one.

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