Kate’s Review: “Deadly Setup”

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Book: “Deadly Setup” by Lynn Slaughter

Publishing Info: Fire and Ice, July 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from the publisher.

Where You Can Get This Book: Amazon

Book Description: When her impulsive, romance-writing mom announces her engagement to a man whose last heiress wife died under suspicious circumstances, Sam tries to dissuade her mother. But her mom is convinced she’ll finally have the “Happily Ever After” she writes about.

And then Sam’s life implodes. Her mom’s fiancé turns up dead, and a mountain of circumstantial evidence points to Sam as the killer. On trial for murder, she fights to prove her innocence with the help of her boyfriend’s dad, an ex-homicide cop.

Moonbeam Children’s Book Award bronze medalist and Agatha Christie award nominee, Lynn Slaughter returns with a new YA thriller pushing the envelope on coming-of-age stories. Dark yet hopeful, Deadly Setup shows that wealth truly doesn’t buy happiness.

Review: Thank you to Fire and Ice for sending me an ARC of this novel!

I remember being a teenager and watching “Law and Order” with my Dad on Wednesday nights once my homework was done (mostly…). I really enjoyed watching the detectives investigate a crime, and then watching the lawyers try the defendant, all for it to wrap up in about an hour’s time. As we’d watch my Dad, who was also a lawyer, would give me tips and tidbits on how the trial stuff worked as the story unfolded. It was solid bonding time. I kept thinking about this stuff as I read “Deadly Setup” by Lynn Slaughter, and how teenage me would have loved a book where a teenager was on trial for a crime she didn’t commit.

The thing that really stood out in a positive way in this novel is that the main focus of the conflict is in a fairly unique setting. In so many YA thrillers I’ve read (and adult thrillers too, thinking about it) the center of the action is in the investigation of a murder or crime. Usually the main character is an outside player, or they are a potential suspect and are using the limited time they have to clear their name. In “Deadly Setup”, we get into a full on courtroom drama that reminds me of some of Jodi Picoult’s earlier works. As someone who devoured a lot of Picoult’s older books specifically because of the courtroom aspects, and who, as mentioned above, really liked the original “Law and Order” specifically to watch Jack McCoy go through the courtroom motions, this really clicked with me. Slaughter takes on a lot of ins and outs and mechanics of how a murder trial would work, from witnesses to various functions of the lawyers to strategies either side would implement, and I think it’s so cool that she did this in a YA novel. It’s a really good way to show the audience that trials themselves can be completely nutty and that a lot of thriller dramatics can be found in a courtroom. I NEED MORE COURTROOM DRAMAS IN MY READING STACK!

The flip side of all of this is that outside of Sam, a lot of the characters are pretty two dimensional. I thought that Sam herself was an enjoyable character, and I really felt the stress and tension and loneliness of her situation. And as our protagonist it’s good that I liked her and was invested in her journey and fate. But almost everyone else was pretty standard for the tropes that they were filling, most of which being her mother Meryl. Meryl is a cookie cutter bad mother, as she’s narcissistic, verbally cruel, willing to believe her sleazy boyfriend of a couple months over her own daughter, and more than happy to play the victim and center herself. I have no doubt that there are mothers out there like this. Hell, I have FRIENDS who have mothers like this. But I think that the problem was that her dialogue and actions were very over the top villainous. This is also seen in the victim, Meryl’s fiancé, who is clearly a dangerous gold digging predator from the jump, and while I am a okay with him being an obvious lout, it’s laid on pretty thick here. Most of the antagonists are, really. When you throw that in with some clunky dialogue here and there and a mystery solution that is a little too hinted at a little too early, the building blocks of the story feel a little shaky. Not in a way that damages the concept overall, mind you, as I did enjoy it as I was reading. But it has awkward beats because of all these things.

But I do enjoy a courtroom drama, and “Deadly Setup” has that and how! I think that the audience this is catered to will have a really unique reading experience with this one given the crux of the drama! Jack McCoy would probably approve.

Rating 7: A good concept and some really good time spent in a courtroom drama setting, though the characters were a bit two dimensional and some of the writing was a bit stilted.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Deadly Setup” is included on the Goodreads lists “Legal Thrillers”, and “Best Books for Teens by Indie Authors“.

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