Review: Courting Death by Paul J. Heald

Title: Courting Death by Paul J. Heald
Clarkeston Chronicles Book Three
Publisher: Yucca Publishing
Genre: Historical (late 80s), Mystery
Length: 328 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by the Author


From an internationally recognized law professor comes the third legal thriller in an exciting mystery series, the Clarkeston Chronicles.

Courting Death finds Melanie Wilkerson (from Cotton, book two of the Clarkeston Chronicles) and Arthur Hughes working uncomfortably together in the chambers of a famous federal judge. While Melanie neglects her duties as a law clerk to investigate the mysterious death of a young woman in the courthouse five years earlier, Arthur wades through the horrific habeas corpus appeals of two prisoners: an infamous serial killer and a pathetic child murder.

Melanie, a Georgia native who returns from law school in the Northeast, hoped to establish a legal reputation that will eclipse her beauty pageant queen past, which she is now desperate to disown. Arthur is a bright but naive Midwesterner who is rapidly seduced by the small Georgia college town of Clarkeston which, to his surprise, comes with an exotic and attractive landlady. The cohort of federal court clerks is completed by Phil Jenkins, a Stanford graduate from San Francisco who tries his best to balance the personalities of his volatile colleagues.

Living and working in bucolic Clarkeston comes with a price. In Courting Death, Arthur, Melanie, and Phil are confronted with the extremes of human mortality, both in and outside the legal system, in ways that they could never have expected or prepared for.


In Courting Death, the third outing in the Clarkeston Chronicles, Paul J. Heald offers an intriguing glimpse into the inner workings of the federal judicial system.

Melanie Wilkerson, Arthur Hughes and Phil Jenkins are excited for the opportunity to work as law clerks for a legendary federal judge.  Their cases run the gamut from writing mundane briefs to life or death appeals from prisoners on death row.  Arthur views his first habeas corpus appeal of a prolific serial killer dispassionately while Phil finds it difficult to set aside his personal feelings on the death penalty.  Having sailed through the process on his first death row appeal relatively unscathed, Arthur wrestles with the second  habeas corpus appeal for a death row inmate whose conviction is not as cut and dried as it first appears.  At the same time, Phil has the unenviable task of finding a legal precedence that will stay the execution of a decorated war veteran.  Meanwhile, Melanie is distracted by puzzling death of law clerk, Carolyn Bastaigne.  Five years earlier, Carolyn fell to her death while working late one evening at the courthouse.  Although her death was ruled accidental, Melanie cannot shake the feeling there is much more to the story than has been revealed.   At the end of the three clerks’ tenure, their lives will be forever changed by their experiences as they discover the justice system is not always fair nor is it easy to remain impartial when a prisoner’s life is at stake.

Arthur has his future all mapped out for himself when he begins working as clerk for the Judge.  His first case does not challenge his viewpoints overly much and he effortlessly maintains his objectivity while writing his brief.  The outcome of the stay of execution is expected and he easily puts the case behind him.  The next habeas corpus appeal is nowhere near as straight forward and he is somewhat stymied the Judge’s cryptic advice.  Arthur’s personal life is also rather unsettled  as his family faces a tragedy and his relationship with his landlady Suzanne Garfield hits an unexpected snag.

Melanie is hoping her career in law will finally prove to everyone that she is more than just a pretty face.  With a keen intellect and  an analytical mind, she has no trouble writing briefs.  However, with  her curiosity piqued by Carolyn’s death, she is having trouble staying on task.  The further she digs into the case, the more convinced she is that Carolyn might have been murdered.  Although there is very little evidence to prove her theory, Melanie tenaciously keeps searching for answers, but once she learns the truth, will she be able to find justice for Carolyn?

Phil is surprised to discover how difficult it is to keep his own beliefs from influencing his work with the Judge.  He and Arthur are often on opposite sides of issues yet they do not allow their disagreements to affect their friendship.  Deeply troubled by a stay of execution appeal he has been assigned, will Phil find a legal maneuver that will save the prisoner’s life?

Courting Death by Paul J. Heald is an insightful addition to the Clakeston Chronicles.  The cases presented are quite fascinating as are the legal procedures associated with each brief.  Fans of legal thrillers and mysteries do not want to miss this novel which provides a very thought-provoking and sometimes disquieting behind the scenes perspective of the justice system.

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1 Comment

Filed under Clarkeston Chronicles, Courting Death, Historical, Historical (80s), Mystery, Paul Heald, Rated B, Review, Yucca Publishing

One Response to Review: Courting Death by Paul J. Heald

  1. Timitra

    Thanks for the review Kathy