Stuck in a dull job at a law firm, aspiring writer Stacey Kim stumbles across a showing of acclaimed photographer Kathy Moran’s work at MoMA, the centerpiece of which is “Woman with a Gun,” a mysterious portrait of a bride holding a sharp-shooter barefoot on the beach. Finally inspired to begin writing her novel, Stacey discovers that the woman is Megan Cahill, suspected of murdering her millionaire husband Raymond Cahill on their wedding night. But the murder was never solved, until Stacey’s quest for background dirt on the story digs up the truth.
Author Phillip Margolin was inspired by a real photo when writing Woman with a Gun, and it’s curious how similarly protagonist Stacey follows in his footsteps. Margolin’s picture has less known back story, but Stacey’s is fleshed out through flashbacks to central moments that defined the case. First, it jumps to the night of the murder when Kathy photographs Megan with the murder weapon and the ensuing investigation in which Megan is cleared. Then, it jumps back further to trace the relationship of the witness Kathy with Jack Booth, one of the investigating attorneys on the Cahill case, who were opposing lawyers on the disastrous Kilbride drug-kingpin trial. Finally, it comes back to Stacey as she resumes the investigation by talking to all of the involved parties, scaring the murderer into taking definitive action once again. Thankfully, each story is told independently and comes together at the end rather than switching back-and-forth, though initially this led to much confusion as to the connections between the segments.
As a protagonist, Stacey was a little unbelievable, sleuthing a mystery that had no connection to her, uprooting herself to move across the country, falling in love immediately with one of the potential suspects. Worse in character though are disgraced lawyer turned photographer Kathy Moran and golddigger/probable murderer Megan Cahill, who are both femme fatales with cold hearts and sharp brains. However, the absolute worst is Jack Booth, an arrogant womanizer whose libido leads him to repeated downfalls. In addition, there’s a fair few stereotypical secondary characters from the drugged up ex-athlete to the sharkish business partner to bumbling criminal associates. Basically, none of these characters were likeable but they add color to the shady narrative.
I predicted fairly early on who might be the killer because of the killer’s suspicious sketchiness. The motive remained a mystery to me because it was barely alluded to until the last hundred pages, which made it slightly unbelievable when it came out. At least Margolin is enough of a thriller master to leave no loose threads, especially with how the photograph ingeniously connected to the plot solution, but Woman with a Gun was a mediocre mystery.