Picks and Pans Review: After Dark

updated 08/07/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/07/1995 01:00AM

by Phillip Margolin

Margolin specializes in characters who make your skin crawl. This is not necessarily a good thing, even in a mystery writer. His 1993 Gone, But Not Forgotten, for example, focused on a serial killer whose high social rank easily concealed his slice-and-dice activities. The result was The Silence of the Lambs without the chianti.

Fortunately, the author, a Portland, Ore., defense attorney, has turned to more cerebral creeps in After Dark. The title refers not to nightlife but to the routine of lawyers who visit state prisons after sunset and depart before sunrise, with their death row clients dead. It is an image that haunts the renowned Matthew Reynolds, who specializes in defending clients against the death penalty.

Hulking, skeletal, with a jarringly disfigured face, Reynolds is a kind of Phantom of the Courtroom, who even harbors an obsessive love for aloof but luscious prosecutor Abigail Griffen. So what luck when Griffen finds herself accused of murdering her estranged husband. Who better to defend her?

The chilly personalities of these two characters mean the suspicion never rests. Indeed, both are so unlikable that obvious bad guy Charlie Deems, a wacko drug dealer who recently murdered a 9-year-old child, often comes across as humorous. ("What are you gonna do?" he demands, when threatened by Reynolds. "Cross-examine me to death?") But Margolin's convoluted tale is worth the telling, and readers will be hard-pressed to anticipate the action as they lie awake with After Dark. (Doubleday, $23.95)

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