Lost Lake
by Phillip Margolin
(HarperCollins)

Sometimes I think that, as long as he featured at least one high-speed criminal chase and ended it with newfound love, my cat could write a book and strike it rich. But then I remember that as clever as my cat is, he lacks the credentials that Phillip Margolin has. A criminal defense attorney for over 20 years in Portland, Margolin has been churning out bestsellers for the past 10 years. A creator of mystery-thrillers, Margolin has gleaned from his background a keen perspective into the mind of a criminal, often making said criminal the protagonist.

Such is the case with Lost Lake. Carl Rice, having undergone several identity switches since he murdered a Congressman in the 1980s, has lived a life of anonymity and eluded capture in our very own Portland for the past 20 years. Not until he roughs up a police officer (in self-defense) and is spotted on national news by his high school girlfriend (who aids his escape) does he have to locate evidence to clear him from the prior crime. Complicating things slightly, the old girlfriend happens to be the daughter of a Presidential candidate who is involved in a top-secret governmental unit funded by illegal drug money. And that's only the beginning.

Political conspiracy stories and novels involving spies are rarely simple and Margolin deserves praise for managing the copious information and tying up all plotlines. Still, it feels very artificial. After a while, having a new plot twist arise in every chapter becomes tedious.

Of course I realize that numerous plot twists are the order of the day in mystery-thrillers. In order to stay ahead of the short attention spans of Wal-Mart shoppers, it is imperative to titillate the reader with a barrage of soap opera-esque story developments. For readers in search of a book of substance, though, Lost Lake ain't it. I thought perhaps this would be a "literary mystery-thriller," but Margolin is very weak on dialogue and leaves nothing to the reader's imagination. It's neat to read about Portland geographical details like Multnomah County courthouse and Willamette River, but then you could buy a map at the gas station and have the same experience.