A private investigator teams with a policeman to solve the murder of a prosecuting attorney. Dana Cutler is a gorgeous, brilliant private investigator who is slowly dying of boredom from the petty divorce and insurance fraud cases she is working. Once a police detective, Dana went private after she was kidnapped and gang raped by a biker gang. Held hostage and tortured in a basement for weeks, she finally escaped and in a break with reality ended up using an ax to murder and dismember her captives. After a year in a mental hospital, rather than return to the force, Dana begins private investigating.
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The story begins at a cocktail party hosted by a powerful Washington D.C. law firm during a American Bar Association convention. Charles Benedict, an attorney who is described as being reminiscent of a special forces action figure hero has schmoozed his way through the crowd. He notices billionaire businessman and power broker Horace Blair and his decades younger, gorgeous, blonde, stunning, trophy wife Carrie, a prosecutor for the state. Charles, or Charlie as he is known, attempts to chat with Carrie but is rebuffed. Suddenly, Charlie receives a phone call and excuses himself, leaving the party. Charlie is an accomplished magician who not only loves to impress the ladies with his skills but also specializes in making witnesses, informants and evidence disappear. Charlie has received instructions from his Russian mob client to murder an informant. Charlie meets the informant in a parking lot and stabs him in the heart.
Charlie then returns to the party and finding Carrie alone at the bar invites himself to join her though she is less than interested. He uses the pretext of discussing an upcoming case with her so she is polite. Charlie uses his sleight of hand mastery to slip a sedative into her drink. When she becomes dizzy he offers to help her home but once in her car he drives to his condo where he feigns great concern and makes her coffee, lacing it with Rohypnol. Carrie becomes very talkative and explains that she has a prenuptial agreement with Horace that requires him to give her twenty million dollars if she is faithful for ten years and does not divulge the terms or even the existence of the prenup. The ten years is up and the prenup will expire in five days. Carrie then passes out. When she wakes u the next morning Charlie assures her that nothing happened between them.
Meanwhile, Dana is contacted by a woman with a French accent who wants to hire her. Dana meets with the woman, Margo Laurant, and accepts a case filled with $25,000.00 cash, agreeing to try to locate a lost Ottoman Empire scepter the woman claims belonged to her grandparents. Margo shares that her grandparents were murdered and robbed of the priceless scepter but that it had recently resurfaced for auction. It was authenticated by a Professor Otto Pickering but when Margo contacted the auction house she was told the scepter had been withdrawn and she could obtain no further information. Dana agrees to leave immediately for Isla de Muerta off the coast of Vancouver to question Otto Pickering in the hopes of establishing a claim. Margo explains that all arrangements have already been made for Dana's travel and her stay on the island.
The next morning, leaves a note for her live-in photojournalist boyfriend Jake and flies to Seattle, then takes a boat to Isla de Muerta in the wake of an oncoming storm. She checks in at a quaint bed and breakfast then drives to Pickering's house in the car provided by the inn. Pickering is reluctant and refuses to give her any information. Just as he is asking her to leave bullets begin to fly as someone shoots through Pickering's windows. By the time Dana gets outside she sees only taillights. Pickering is terrified and gives her contact information for an antique dealer in Seattle named Rene Marchand who had hired Pickering to do the authentication. Her calls to Margo go to voicemail.
Dana is stuck on the island for several days waiting out the storm. When she finally gets to Seattle, Marchand denies any knowledge of the scepter. Fianlly he agrees to give her the owner's number in exchange for $5,00.00. He arranges for her to meet the owner of the scepter, a countess, the following day. Dana attempts to update Margo but it goes to voicemail again.
Back in D.C., Charlie is representing a rich kid named Kyle Ross, who was busted for cocaine. Charlie has made problems disappear before for the Ross family. The state's case is airtight with two highly decorated cops having made the arrest and an innocent young girl as a witness. Carrie has assigned a young assistant to handle the slam dunk case. Charlie pulls a sleight of hand when he is holding the bag of cocaine on exhibit, substituting it for a baggie of baking soda. He then demands that the cocaine be tested in front of the jury and of course it tests negative. Case dismissed. Word is sent Carrie who begins to threaten Charlie but is stopped in her tracks when he tells her he has an incriminating DVD that he will show her husband unless she meets him that night. He instructs her to pull around back of his condo and park in his garage.
When Carrie enters the condo, Charlie explains that they had not only had sex the night she was there but he has it all on dvd. He demands a quarter of a million dollars in exchange for his silence. Carrie is furious and flies at Charlie who conveniently had a gun prepared. He shoots her in the stomach. Carrie pleads with him to take her to the hospital as she is losing consciousness. He agrees but only if eh will identify each of the keys on her key ring, which include her front door key to her mansion, her Porche, and the keys to her husband's Bentley. He then carries her to the garage and dumps her into the trunk of her Porsche. Charlie goes to bed and falls asleep happily to the sound of Carrie's muffled screams and futile pounding.
Horace Blair is having breakfast at the mansion when Homicide detective Stephanie Robb enters and inquires after the missing Carrie who hasn't shown up at work all week. Horace explains that he and his wife lead separate lives and have separate wings of the house. He sends his houseman to look for Carrie and check on her cars with no results.
The think, boxy built, homely detective wearing sensible shoes is dismissed.
Upon returning home from work later that day, Horace finds Charlie waiting. Charlie gives him a DVD and explains that he and Carrie had engaged in a long term affair and then she dumped him to sleep with someone else. Secretly hoping the arranged poses he photographed don't reveal that Carrie is unconscious. Having made many such blackmail DVDs, Charlie feels confident. He gives Horace proof of the affair by revealing the details of the prenup, which instantly nullifies it. He offers ironclad proof in return if Horace will give him his front door key so he can make a point. Charlie then opens the door using the key from Carrie's ring while exchanging Horace's key for a new one (with Horace missing that trick). He claims he wants nothing from Horace but the chance to commiserate with him, after all she cuckolded both of them. They share drink and chat. After Charlie leaves, Horace contacts his corporate attorney, Pratt, and shares everything that has happened and instructs him that Carrie is to get nothing. Pratt reminds him that although he drew up the prenup, only Horace and Carrie have copies. They will get her copy when she shows up to demand her twenty million.
Arriving in Vancouver, Dana takes a ferry to Victoria. Still nothing Margo's but voicemail but Dana feels a responsibility to continue. The countess is ensconced in a luxury hotel. She is a young, gorgeous, stunning, blonde. She insists the scepter is for sale for ten million dollars, the price is non-negotiable and must be brought to her on Friday or the deal is off. Dana is still unable to reach Margo. She bribes the desk clerk to tell he that the owner of the countess' suite is none other than Horace Blair. Dana realizes this case is similar to The Maltese Falcon. Suspicious, Dana follows the countess and her bodyguard to a tavern. Dana does an internet search and finds Horace owns a mansion on the island. Just then Pickering joins the countess. Upon confrontation, the group admits they all belong to a theater company and were hired to stage the events of the past few days. A woman with a French accent had given them $20,000.00 plus expenses to pull the prank. Marchand, who is really Marty Draper has sold art to the Blairs at their home on the Island. He reveals that Carrie shops regularly at his gallery. They decide Margo must have needed to get Carrie out of DC for a week and was willing to pay $50,000 plus expenses to do so.
Back in DC, a woman named Sarah Gelfand is notified that her locksmith father hasn't shown up at work. Sarah contemplates filing a missing person report. Dana takes a red eye flight home to find Jake has returned early from a disastrous artic assignment. Dana fills him in on the case. Nikolai Orlansky, the Russian mafia kingpin who Charlie works for shows up at the lawyer's office demanding Charlie defend one of his men on a murder charge, another airtight case against the guilty man. Charlie agrees to make the witnesses 'disappear' for thirty thousand dollars.
Stephanie Robb and her partner Frank Santoro go to a farm in the country to investigate the murder of a man found dumped in the woods with a stab wound in his heart. Back at the precinct they read the newspaper account claiming the Blairs had a prenup and giving details of the twenty million dollar payoff. Santoro calls the reporter but can't get any other information.
Horace calls Pratt after he sees the same story. It is discussed between the two that there are only two copies of the document; Horace has one and Carrie the other. Meanwhile, over at the jail, a petty criminal named Barry Lester provokes fellow inmate and Orlansky employee Gregor Karpinski into a fight (at Charlie's instruction) so Barry will be placed in solitary.
At dawn the next day, Charlie stalks Horace and then follows him to his parking garage. Using the keys from Carrie's key ring, he places incriminating evidence in the trunk of the Bentley, including a blood soaked towel, the gun, and hairs he had plucked from Carrie before he buried her. Using a Mexican accent, Charlie then calls Robb and tells her he saw Horace put Carrie in the trunk of the Bentley. It is then that she gets the news that the murder victim found at the farm has been identified. It is Sarah Gelfand's locksmith father. Santoro and Robb approach Horace who allows them to search his Bentley. The incriminating evidence is discovered and Horace Blair is arrested on the spot. Charlie shows up at the jail and Horace hires Charlie to defend him - in spite of his lack of experience and less than stellar reputation. Charlie arranges for Horace to be put in solitary next to Barry Lester. At this point Charlie is very satisfied that he has orchestrated Horace's downfall that will allow Charlie avoid all detection and suspicion.
Dana gets a phone call from Alice, an attorney she has worked for in the past. Alice reveals that she had referred Margo Laurant to Dana. Dana wonders if Carrie Blair was really Margo Laurant. She remembers that she had been photographing an insurance fraud suspect on the day before Margo had hired her. She remembers that as she had snapped the shots a couple had exited a condo and walked into her shot. The woman had become hysterical so Dana had sped off. Dana examines her photos and sees that the hysterical woman was Carrie Blair. Dana decides that Carrie must have read her license plate and tracked her down. Dana decides she must locate Carrie's male companion.
In the meantime, Barry Lester's attorney meets with Robb and explains that Horace admitted his guilt to his client and arranges for Barry to lead the police to Carrie's grave in exchange for his own release. They find the shallow grave containing Carrie's body as well as a loose key. Robb is convinced that Horace is guilty but Santoro feels the case is too solid and is suspicious. He investigates and finds that Barry's girlfriend, a stripper named Tiffany Starr was Barry's only visitor in jail. Further investigation reveals that Tiffany's real name was Sharon Ross, the sister of Kyle Ross, and that her attorney was Charlie Benedict. Santoro searches Carrie's phone and internet records and finds that Carrie had done an internet search on Dana Cutler right before she disappeared.
Marty Draper/Rene Marchand calls Dana and explains that he saw the news report that Horace had been arrested for Carrie's murder. He shares that Carrie had been an abused, abandoned child and had tried to be an actress but that hadn't worked out so she had gotten her GED, gone to community college then graduated summa cum laude from Berkeley with a degree in history. She then went to Georgetown Law School. Dana decides that all of this explains how Carrie pulled off the elaborate ruse.
Robb and Santoro meet at Horace's mansion with the key from the grave as well as the keys they took from Horace upon his arrest. The key from the grave opens his front door but the key from his keyring doesn't.
Charlie brings a suit to the jail for Horace to wear to the bail hearing. Horace had given Charlie the security codes for the gate and front door to his mansion so Charlie could pick up the clothes. Dana attends the hearing and meets with Robb and Santoro during a break. She reveals everything that happened to her since she photographed Carrie and her companion. Santoro arranges to meet with Dana later without Robb. Charlie purposely flubs the bail hearing. Dana meets with Santoro who hires her to investigate Charlie. Dana and Santoro go to his house to review video surveillance from the locksmith shop. They see someone in a Porsche drive up but he is wearing a hoodie and can't be identified. They decide it was Charlie, that he had murdered Carrie and had gotten the locksmith to make copies of the keys then murdered the locksmith and dumped his body at the farm, buried Carrie and dropped Horace's house key into the grave. They don't know how he managed to switch the keys on Horace's ring.
Dana goes as a reporter to interview Tiffany Starr and tempts her with a photo shoot. Tiffany is undecided but very tempted. Dana leaves her a fake business card. Dana actually works for a sensationalistic magazine called Exposed and has earned two Pulitzers for her crime writing but she doesn't reveal this to Tiffany. Tiffany calls Charlie then decides that if he doesn't offer her enough she will turn state's evidence and ask for witness protection in Hawaii or Las Vegas. Charlie calls Gregor Kapinski who is now out of jail and tells him that Orlansky wants him to rough up and threaten Dana. Charlie goes to Tiffany's apartment and murders her. Gregor arranges to meet with Dana but when he attempts to attack her she stabs him in the crotch and beats him up. Dana calls 911 and leaves. She calls Santoro, goes to his house and explains what just happened. She then goes home and tells Jake. Santoro calls and tells Dana that Tiffany has been murdered and that he has discovered that Charlie was Karpinski's attorney previously.
Dana had been unable to find anything out about Charlie before he went to law school but had asked a reporter friend named Zipay to look into it. Zipay calls Dana and explains that he found that Charlie had near perfect SAT scores but only a GED. He further explains that Charlie had changed his name from Richard Molinari to Charles Benedict prior to getting the GED and then graduating from the University of Virginia with honors. Richard Molinari had been a suspect in the disappearance of two gangsters in Kansas City but the case was never solved. Dana flies to Kansas City and meets with a retired detective who tells her that Richard/Charlie was known as the magician not only because he made people disappear but because he actually did magic tricks. The retired cop describes Richard/Charlie as a stone killer without a conscience who had a high IQ but was a ruthless enforcer for a gang called the Kung Fu Dragons. The cop reveals that Richard/Charlie had beaten two students to death with a baseball bat and had burned another to death but that nothing could be proven.
Back in Washington, Santoro meets privately with Orlansky and tells him about Kapinski. Orlansky is attended by a bodyguard named Perkovic. When Santoro leaves he gets a call from Dana who fills him in on what she has learned. In the meantime, Charlie tries to contact Kapinski and finds out he is hospitalized with serious injuries. Charlie is afraid that Orlansky will find out that he used his name without his permission to get Kapinski to attack Dana. He decides to kill Kapinski but before he gets to the hospital Perkovic talks to Kapinski and finds out about Charlie's lies. Santoro uses forensics to discover that the non working front door key was made in the murdered locksmith's shop.
Santoro finally fills Robb in on all that he has discovered. They go to the hospital to talk to Kapinski but find that he has died unexpectedly from a heart attack.
Dana decides to use the Ottoman scepter ruse to lure Charlie. She visits her old friend Bobby Schatz, a preeminent criminal attorney, and discloses the details of the case asking him to arrange for her to meet with Pratt, Horace's corporate attorney. Pratt agrees to talk to Horace and convince him to fire Benedict. Once Schatz is hired in his place, Santoro is able talk to Horace without Charlie present and finds out how the keys were switched. Dana meets with Charlie disguised as Myra Blankenship. She tells Charlie she was brokering a deal for Carrie for the Ottoman scepter and asks him to approach Horace to buy it to honor Carrie's last wishes. She claims that Carrie gave her a copy of the prenuptial agreement as a show of good faith that Carrie could afford the scepter. Charlie arranges to pick up the copy at Myra's hotel. Santoro and Robb have surveillance set up at the hotel. When Charlie arrives he meets Myra/Dana in the parking lot and attempts to stab her in the heart but the knife is repelled by her Kevlar vest which gives Myra/Dana the opportunity to break Charlie's wrist and arm before cuffing him. Santoro and Robb have captured it all on video and arrest Charlie. On the way to the jail, Charlie devises two plans for escape. The first is to use the millions he has stashed away to disappear and live in luxury under an assumed identity. The second is to turn evidence on Orlansky and get witness protection. Charlie's lawyer bails him out but before Charlie can put either plan into action Perkovic picks him up and takes him to Orlanski. Orlanski orders Perkovic to kill Charlie.
Dana is celebrating her victory when a man named Earl Chan calls and invites her to discuss hiring her to do an investigation over dinner at Venezia, a restaurant that is far out of her league. Dana accepts and listens as he spins an elaborate tale about a missing Han dynasty jade dragon. Dana starts to laugh and asks who has put him up to this. Jake suddenly appears and explains that he set it up with Horace and Booby Schatz. Everyone has a good laugh and a delicious meal.
Best part of story, including ending:
The author constantly relies on deus ex machina and that gets really tiresome. The plot is not believable, the characters are one dimensional stereotypes and the author constantly introduces convenient explanations. Two of the main characters are near genius attorneys who have only GEDs but graduated law school summa sum laude. The entire mystery hinges on a front door key to a mansion that doesn't need a key but is opened by a security code but this seems to have escaped the author's attention. None of the characters are likable. All of the characters are either all good or all bad. The female police officer is described as being as ugly as she is dull minded. It was almost impossible to finish this mess of a book without literally falling asleep or gagging from utter disgust. Having read that the author was a bestselling author/attorney in the mold of John Grisham, I kept reading waiting for the story to redeem itself but it never happened. The author is not anywhere close to the caliber of Grisham. The writing lacks style, the story lacks substance and although the author tried very hard to be clever he came off as simple and flat. If he could bring it up several notches it might possibly be used as a Lifetime network made for very late night TV movie but even that would be a stretch.
Best scene in story:
It is hard to find a favorite scene in this simplistic, poorly written, ill-conceived book. If pressed, I would choose the scene where Dana dreams she is floating on clouds and decides to use the Ottoman scepter ruse against Charlie. This is a very brief scene and that is its best quality.
Opinion about the main character:
Dana Cutler has had a horrific past (though it is told quickly as a back story for her character). She was able to overcome a complete mental breakdown followed by a year in a mental hospital and go on to be a brilliant investigator and have a normal, loving relationship with a perfect man. Her recovery and resilience isn't explained in any way and so isn't at all believable. She does have a very violent mean streak and enjoys revenge. I didn't find her likable, interesting, or even very smart.