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03/21/2004 Archived Entry: "Book Review: "The Case of the Colonist's Corpse" by Bob Ingersoll and Tony Isabella"
The Case of the Colonist's Corpse
by Bob Ingersoll and Tony Isabella
Publisher: Star Trek (Pocket Books)
Reviewed by Kathryn L. Ramage
Perry Mason in Space…
Authors Bob Ingersoll and Tony Isabella make it clear in the acknowledgments prefacing this book that they've written a murder mystery in the Perry-Mason style -- that is, a mystery set as a courtroom drama with the lawyer for the defense acting as detective, and a client who is undoubtedly not guilty. But Ingersoll and Isabella have also written a Star Trek novel. Our hero is none other than Samuel T. Cogley, the luddite lawyer who defended Captain Kirk in the Original Series episode Court Martial. His client is a Klingon governor accused of murdering his Federation counterpart on a colony world shared by both (in accordance with the Organian Peace Treaty). Like Earl Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason, Cogley is called upon not only to defend his client, but to solve the crime of which his client has been falsely accused and to find the guilty party. He even has a "Della Street" secretary and a "Paul Drake" private investigator to assist him.
This book can be considered in two lights; as a mystery, and as a Star Trek novel.
How does it stand up as a mystery? As a mystery, the story is replete with the typical range of suspects: the cheating wife and her lover, some business-type associates who would be ruined by the actions of the murdered man if he'd lived long enough, an angry, drunken lout bent on revenge, and even a couple of spies–in this case, one human and one Klingon. I had my suspicions about the murderer early on, but the truth wasn't so painfully obvious as to spoil the mystery, nor so obscure as to come out of nothing; there were enough real clues, false clues, motives, death threats, and red herrings tossed in and sustained to keep the question respectably up in the air until the resolution. The story has a nice Perry-Masonish feel to it throughout and follows the template of the Gardner novels I've read (admittedly, not all of them).
How is it as a Star Trek novel? Those readers looking for the further adventures of Kirk and company will be disappointed; the crew of the Enterprise only makes two brief appearances at the middle and end of the story. On the other hand, we do not forget that this novel is set in the Trek universe, for the text is liberally strewn with references to people, places, and events familiar to the well-versed Trekker -- actually, to the point where I began to find them an annoying distraction. The Organians and the Daystrom Institute? Okay. At least there was some reason for their being mentioned. But Captain Archer and Section 31? Unnecessary, and laying it on a little too thick for my tastes.
It seemed a bit odd to me that with all the usual 23rd-century Trek technology available, there were a number of things that were anachronistic. For example, Cogley's dislike of computers is well established from his appearance in Court Martial, but the murdered man also keeps a collection of books and writes his notes on paper -- both of which are important to the case. It also struck me as odd that the murdered man could be hit with a phaser blast and not be vaporized instantly. Both of these points I can forgive, however, by attributing them to the authors' need to provide viable clues: computer records can be altered in ways that printed writing cannot, and the weakness of the phaser blast leaves a body to be found so that the characters in the novel know that this is a murder rather than an unaccountable disappearance.
In spite of the oddities and irritations, my overall impression of the book is a favorable one. I enjoyed reading it, and if there are to be further books in this series, I'll look forward to seeing them too.
Although if there are to be more books in this series, I have to pity poor Areel Shaw, the prosecuting attorney and Kirk's love interest in Court Martial, and this novel's Hamilton Berger stand-in. At the very end of the book, we have the following ominous description of her:
[Kirk] was reminded of the resentment and intensity he had sensed in Areel back on the Enterprise, and realized he sensed the same thing from her now. Only this time it was stronger, darker. Disturbing.
Who can blame her? She must realize that as long as she's up against Cogley, she'll never win another case for the rest of her career.
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Updated: May 31, 2004