Toronto writer Mary E. Martin wraps up her Osgoode trilogy with A Trial of One, the strongest book in the series. The trilogy is a legal-based crime thriller, with an emphasis on the psychology of both the protagonists and antagonists. This is fertile territory, well explored by authors like Ruth Rendell. However, Martin is not yet writing at a level to successfully develop all the issues she raises, though the increase in writing strength from the first novel in this series to the last is promising.
A Trial of One finishes the story of Toronto lawyer Harry Jenkins and his unraveling of a decades old fraud concerning money raised for Alzheimer’s research, while at the same time trying to get closer to the mysterious Natasha. Martin’s plot is intricate, drawing on knowledge of the previous entries in the series (Conduct In Question and Final Paradox) and one of the strong points of the book. Threads that were established in the two previous novels, such as the death of Harry’s senior partner, his relationship with his college room-mate and the distance his lover insists upon, are woven together as Harry realises the past is intruding as much in his personal life as in his case.
The author was a practicing estate lawyer in Toronto before turning to writing, and she knows her city and her law. Harry has to chase down some valuable missing shares for an elderly client before some very nasty rivals get to it first, and to Martin’s credit, she insists on legal accuracy as well as exciting chases and nasty murders. The reader is pulled along as Harry races around Toronto and Venice, trying to figure out who he can trust as he untangles the goings on of the mysterious Elixicorp Enterprises. The case has connections to Harry’s personal life as well, which proves almost as difficult to untangle as he confronts the nature of forgiveness and of sexual identity.
The author’s interest in the psychological underpinnings of identity, love, compassion and forgiveness mesh well with mystery writing. Authors like Ruth Rendell and P. D. James have long explored the dark recesses of the human mind along with the trail of clues to a particular act of violence. Martin, however, is still developing as a writer, and this aspect of the novel is less satisfying than the plot. Her characters by the third novel have strong unique voices, but Martin doesn’t rely on them being able to convey her themes as they confront their own weaknesses. Instead, the reader often stumbles over an authorial voice, making the themes very plain, and often rather repetitiously. Some vigorous editing in general to reduce repetitive language and scenes would improve the story substantially.
When the story is on track, however, Martin enjoyably weaves together a little humour with her thrills, wrapped up in a plot showcasing her understanding of estate law. Though flawed, A Trial of One is worth a look.