Thursday, May 16, 2013

Dead Peasants by Larry D. Thompson

Jackson Bryant is a very successful plaintiff's lawyer.  He made his fortune representing clients against big companies that had wronged them.  Having all the money he'd ever need, Bryant decides to retire and chooses Fort Worth as his locale.  His son is about to start playing football at TCU, and Bryant decides all he wants to do is watch J.D. run that ball.

But, after buying a mansion and having it decorated and a few weeks of playing golf and poker at the country club, Bryant is bored.  There's nothing really interesting in his life except his new friendship with Colby Stripling, the realtor/designer who sold him his house.  So Jack decides to offer his services pro bono to the folks in Fort Worth who can't afford a lawyer.

June Davis is one of those folks.  She is a recent widow; her husband of fifty years having died while fishing near their home.  She comes to Bryant when she gets a confusing letter in the mail.  It contains a check for four hundred thousand; a check made out to the company where her husband had worked for years as a porter, never making more than twenty thousand a year.  The letter says the original letter was damaged, and Mrs. Davis' name was the only one that could be made out.  She is confused, as she never knew of any life insurance on her husband, or why if there was a policy, the company is the beneficiary.

As Bryant delves into this mystery, he finds that this was a common practice at one time.  Companies would take out life insurance not only on the top earners whose loss would hurt the firm, but on regular employees such as housekeepers or secretaries.  They would continue to pay the premiums on these policies, which the employees often knew nothing about, even after an employee left the firm.  Eventually, when the ex-employee died, the firm collected on the policy.  These type of policies were known as dead peasant policies.

The dealership where Mr. Davis had worked still used these policies, even though they were outlawed in Texas years ago.  Even worse, people who worked there were now dying in accidents, or were they accidents?  With a bad economy and double indemnity in the case of accidental death, these deaths were very profitable for the company.

Thompson is a former defense attorney in Texas himself.  He has crafted a mystery that takes the reader behind the scenes of the legal profession and shows what strategies and maneuvers take place in a trial.  The concept is novel, and the execution is satisfactory.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

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