Gordon Campbell

"Missing Witness"

(Reviewed by Kirstin Merrihew DEC 17, 2007)

"Like I said, lawyers who play for these stakes will do anything to win. Anything. I don't know for sure why that is. I don't know if it's the joy of winning, which I tell you borders on ecstasy, or if it's the fear of losing, the emotion that now engulfs me and makes me shake."

MISSING WITNESS by Gordon Campbell

A few months ago I read The Just and the Unjust, a 65-year-old novel by James Gould Cozzens about an entire criminal trial from opening arguments to verdict, as told by a young assistant prosecutor. Nowrecently published Missing Witness, by Gordon Campbell, tenders the other side of the coin: the courtroom defense of murder charges through the eyes of a wet-behind-the-ears law firm associate. If you relish details about court procedure and legal maneuvering, and if you have the time to read two 400-plus-page books, these are excellent companion volumes. If, however, you have time for just one right now, make it Missing Witness.

Read ExcerptGordon Campbell, an experienced trial attorney, proves himself an adroit and polished suspense writer in Missing Witness, his debut as an author of fiction. He sets his story in 1973 Arizona and begins with two persons entering a little house. Six shots ring out. The front door opens again and the two emerge. One drops a gun as the property's sheep man, who has been watching and listening from afar, runs to them. He looks inside and sees a man dead, in a pool of blood.

Soon Doug McKenzie, newly-hired associate at Butler and Menendez, gets to sit second chair as his firm's legendary defense lawyer, Dan Morgan, tries to prove their client, beautiful Rita Eddington, innocent of gunning down her husband, Travis. Peculiarly, wealthy rancher Ferris Eddington, Travis' father, insists on personally bankrolling his daughter-in-law's first-class defense. Dan tells Doug that to get Rita acquitted, they must prove the other person who entered house with Rita killed Travis. That would be 12-year-old Miranda Eddington, Rita and Travis' daughter, who has a history of mental problems and who went into an apparently catatonic state when she was transported to jail with her mother after the shooting!

Rita's trial proceeds with many nail-biting moments as the artful but high-strung and haunted Dan Morgan pulls out all the stops -- legal and a few not so legal -- to try to win Rita's freedom. Doug, who has never tried a case before, gets a whale of an education, not only regarding courtroom strategy and tactics but also concerning the power jockeying amongst the partners in the firm. Doug "Yes, sir"s and "No, sir"s so often one almost thinks he is toadying. But, no, he is a well-mannered young attorney with a great deal to learn. And learn he does. Actually, Doug, not burdened in 1973 by the regrets and disappointments that weigh on older Dan, displays better judgment and insight than his gone-to-seed legal mentor at times.

Missing Witness is a man's book in the sense that it is told entirely from the male perspective, and it projects some biases liable to offend feminists and even non-feminist women. But this story takes place in the early 1970s, so the political correctness to which we are accustomed is rightfully not yet mainstream. Also, without giving anything away, stereotypes strain the novel's right to claim plot authenticity. If anything underachieves in this superb thriller, it is the alleged motives for the murder that drive the plot; they could come right out of TV's LAW AND ORDER.

But don't hold these small reservations against Campbell. He has written an ingenious courtroom drama. The trial's closing arguments in the final pages of the novel are brilliant, as is the twist revealed after their delivery. For aficionados of legal fiction, Missing Witness is about as close to book heaven as one can get.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 9 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Missing Witness at MostlyFiction.com

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About the Author:

Gordon CampbellGordon Campbell graduated in 1964 with a B.S. degree from Brigham Young University and in 1972 with a J.D. degree from Arizona State University, where he was the editor-in-chief of the Arizona State University Law Journal. He was admitted to the Arizona State Bar in 1972 and the Utah State Bar in 1976.

He practices law with the firm of Parsons Behle & Latimer in Salt Lake City, Utah. He has over 100 jury trials in both private practice and as Assistant United States Attorney for Utah. He is a member of the American Board of Trial Advocates and a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers.

He lives with his wife, United States District Judge Tena Campbell, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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