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Always a favorite, mysteries are looked forward to by many, many readers, and are featured in today’s book reviews. Both Out Lawyered by Clair Poulson and Undercover Target by Frank Holdaway have some definite LDS references and are exciting page-turners.

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OUT LAWYERED by Clair M. Poulson

As a seventeen-year-old high school student Saxon Cartwright watched in horror as the man responsible for the deaths of his sister, the girl he had a crush on, and his best friend went free thanks to the incompetence of the prosecuting attorney. That was the beginning of his determination to become a prosecuting attorney and serve the cause of justice. Now an adult serving in the county attorney’s office in a rural area, he faces a defense attorney who will do anything to keep his client from serving time for the death of a young woman who died in a rollover caused by the driver’s speed and indulgence in alcohol. When witnesses and jurors begin to die Saxon knows he has more than a DUI on his hands.

A young school teacher, Wyanne Grice, is out for a run when she becomes a surprise witness to murder. Now her life is in danger and Saxon makes it his job to protect her, though there’s more than protection behind the compulsion he feels to keep her from being the next victim.

Poulson has a particular talent for creating ordinary characters who bring their stories closer to readers through the readers’ affinity to those characters. There’s a “down home” rural feel to this story even though a large portion of the novel is courtroom drama. In juxtaposition of the usual hick lawyer against the city slicker lawyer, Poulson’s city lawyer is the crude one and Saxon plays the straight, clean cut attorney who follows the rules. Poulson doesn’t preach, but his leading characters are clearly LDS and follow Church standards. There’s a slightly western feel to the story with the use of horses and the casual mention of livestock, rangeland, and cattle.

The background for this story is primarily eastern rural Utah, but demonstrating his personal knowledge of the area, the author uses the varied terrain of the Duchesne area as appropriate background for his various scenes. There are also scenes which show the distances involved between Duchesne and other areas such as Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, and parts of Wyoming. The courtroom scenes feel authentic as well.

Clair M. Poulson is a favorite of many readers. He has authored two dozen books, primarily for the LDS market though he has many fans who don’t fall into that marketing category. He grew up farming and ranching, became an MP, and since has served more than forty years in the criminal justice system. He spent eight years of those years as a sheriff and twenty years as a justice court judge. He and his wife have five children and twenty-five grandchildren.

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OUT LAWYERED by Clair M. Poulson, published by Covenant Communications, 266 pages, soft cover $16.99. Also available for e-Readers.

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UNDERCOVER TARGET by Frank Holdaway

Peng and his baby sister were left in a Chinese orphanage by their mother in a desperate attempt to save them from abuse by her violent husband. Peng knows something is wrong at the orphanage and only stays because he promised his mother he’d watch over his tiny sister. A long time ago he learned to protect himself and one of the skills he acquired was the ability to pick any lock. He befriends a girl a few years younger than himself and when he learns she is to be sold as a child prostitute, he takes drastic measures to protect her. When an American couple arrives, anxious to adopt Peng’s sister, the director insists they take Peng also. Again Peng tries a maneuver of his own and the girl he befriended is sent to America along with Peng and his sister.

Matt Knight, a former spy, left his career as an undercover agent when he married Hope. When they weren’t blessed with children, they made arrangements to adopt a child. Friends adopt the older girl they bring back from China with them and all goes well with the baby, but Peng is another matter. Matt can’t seem to get through to him until a few years later when he is asked to accompany the boys he teaches on Sunday on a Scout trip into a rugged mountainous area. He and the boys know the Scout master is a former Delta Force agent, but they don’t know about Matt’s covert past.

Someone from Matt’s past is seeking revenge and has discovered his location. Mercenaries are sent to kidnap Matt and his family. They capture Hope and the little girl first along with an elderly neighbor and their bishop. Bonds among the men and boys are strengthened as they work to free themselves. Both of the men and Peng make use of their special skills and even the youngest, chubby scout finds an enterprising way to help.

The characters in this story are easy to like, though I’ll admit my favorite is the old lady, Permelia. Hope is a little too nice, but the others are realistic. Action begins on the first page and quickly captures the reader. The story builds quickly and reaches several highs before the denouement and a satisfying ending.

The author handles well Peng’s struggle with guilt and his self blame for his mother’s fate, for events at the orphanage, and his overall belief that he’s not worthy of having a family or being loved. He also deals well with Matt’s mixed feelings and the enhanced bonds that are formed by those who face danger together and share a determination to save those they love–or die trying.

Frank Holdaway is a graduate of Brigham Young University and has worked in HR, been a leadership development consultant, and is currently employed by the Church of Jesus Cherist of Latter-day Saints in the Family History Department. He is married and the father of two children. They live in Utah.

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UNDERCOVER TARGET by Frank Holdaway, published by Covenant Communications, 257 pages, soft cover $16.99 Available on CD and for eReaders.