July Read of the Month: “Privilege,” by Claire Matturro

Claire Hamner Matturro

Reviewed by Donna Meredith

On the first page of Claire Matturro’s steamy mystery Privilege, 18-year-old Ruby asks criminal defense attorney Gardner Randolph if she can trust him. He leers at Ruby’s chest and already readers want to sound the warning: “No! Don’t trust him!” But she is young, homeless, in trouble with the law and has few alternatives. Just that quickly, Matturro gives us a young woman we can root for and a potential antagonist. But just how villainous is this hotshot lawyer? And what got Ruby in trouble to begin with? That’s the backstory that slowly unfolds in this fast-paced thriller.

Fifteen years later, circumstances have changed for Ruby, now a lawyer herself, now wealthy, now Gardner’s wife—for better or worse. While the financial aspects of her life are clearly better, her personal life is distressing. She is trapped in a loveless marriage to a cheater, an abuser. One day while walking by the Myakka River, Ruby meets Hank, a cop who makes her think she might learn to love again—if she dares to leave Gardner—but can she, when he holds all the secrets of her past, secrets he has used to entrap her? The sex between Ruby and Hank sizzles and she senses it holds the potential of moving toward a deeper place, “that hallowed world where the touching was flesh, but the giving was spirit.” If only she can escape her past.

When Gardner is found murdered in their bedroom, Ruby tops the list of suspects. There were no signs of a break-in, so who else had a key? Or who else would Gardner have invited into their bedroom?

As in any good mystery, the list of suspects broadens. There’s Ruby’s first boyfriend, Billy, a man who was just released from prison, a man whom Gardner betrayed. And you can’t omit the firm’s other lawyers as suspects. Gardner’s underhanded financial management has brought the firm to the brink of collapse. Then there’s Tally, Gardner’s spurned lover. And who knows what other enemies he’s made? Ruby and Hank must uncover the killer to clear her name.

Matturro has a gift for locking readers into a scene with evocative details, creating a strong sense of place, from the city life of Desoto Cove (a fictional town on Florida’s west coast) to the Myakka River wilderness to the swamps of Louisiana where Ruby grew up. One passage nails the South’s humidity more perfectly than any other I’ve ever read:

Summer in Louisiana is so hot, even at night, that things stick to you. Pillow cases, sheets, tiny bugs, dirt, dust. It all just gums into the greasy film on your skin you can’t wash off for more than a couple of minutes. It was just that kind of night.

Ahhh, words so effective you might actually start sweating yourself.

Ever so slowly, seductively, Matturro teases out bits of Ruby’s past with Billy—and the way Gardner Randolph used those secrets to betray both young people. Can Ruby free herself from her past? Or will its tendrils reach out and drag her down, even send her to prison, or to her death? And most important to her, can any new love burdened by so many secrets survive their exposure?

Privilege is a compelling story, with twists that keep you turning the pages until the very end. It is Matturro’s sixth mystery. Her award-winning books include Skinny-DippingWildcat WineBone Valley and Sweetheart Deal, and Trouble in Tallahassee. An honors graduate of The University of Alabama Law School, she became the first female partner in a prestigious Sarasota, Florida law firm. After a decade of lawyering, Claire taught at Florida State University College of Law and spent one long, cold winter as a visiting legal writing professor at the University of Oregon.

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