BOOK REVIEW: ‘Survivor’s Guilt’ by Robyn Gigl

February 12, 2024

Review by Eric Page

Attorney and LGBTQ+ activist Robyn Gigl, whose books have won many prestigious awards, tackles the complexities of gender, power, public perception in this twisted plot of human trafficking in another powerful legal thriller featuring Erin McCabe – a transgender attorney –  at its centre.

This is strongly reminiscent of Gigl’s first novel (in this series) By Way of Sorrow, a deeply personal viewpoint of Erin’s life as a high stakes lawyer offered a case which echoes the protagonist’s own identity. Ann –  a trans women – who apparently confesses to the murder of her adoptive father, but something doesn’t quite add up and a clandestine meeting with a police officer working on the case convinces Erin to take it up.

There are major themes of power at play, privilege and entitlement and who gets to be listened to, and whose truth is heard, or believed. What justice really means, to different people and the way the law and the mechanisms of justice are manipulated by the established and entitled. It makes this book possibly unique (so far) and Erin reaches out from their intersectional perspectives to underscore her humanity with her own life, experiences and the emotional impacts unfolding around her work.

I like Erin, they are an interesting, likeable, and believable person, which keeps you reading even when the pace slows considerably, as in the sub plot here of the mother’s cancer diagnoses. Duane Swisher, Erins ‘sidekick’ and sleuthing colleague, picks up the pieces that don’t quite fit in this thriller. Erin’s reflections and experiences, viewed through her trans lens, offer us insights, razor sharp perceptions and wry observations of the working of the legal systems that only an LGBTQ+ mind could pick out.

Fighting against time and a prosecutor hell-bent on notching another conviction, the two work tirelessly – Erin inside the courtroom, Swish in the field – to clear Ann’s name. But despite her father’s associates’ determination to keep their own illegal activities buried, a horrifying truth emerges – a web of human exploitation, unchecked greed, and murder. This quest to see justice served becomes a desperate struggle to survive.

Unlike in Sorrow, where we experience the detailed working of the legal mind as Erin unpicks events, here the story is a little heavier, with the wicked main characters being almost Bond villain in their intent and, although giving some thrilling episodes of denouement, it’s not quite as ordinary or believable as the characters and plots that weave around this main narrative thrust. I like my courtroom thrillers to unfold with obvious facts that I’d missed earlier in the narrative, that ‘Oh right’ moment, but that’s mostly missing in the exposure of the real culprits here. There’s far more threat and danger lurking in these shadowy corridors of power.

Erin is such a well written character, this outing, which shows her living her best life, but also under real danger for taking on a case for another person, who also happens to be trans, isn’t as satisfying a legal thriller as the first book but is certainly a dark and menacing thriller in the modern broader genre. Author Gigl’s prose is warm, engaging and deeply personal allowing her characters to bloom as real people in our mind’s eye.

Although unsatisfying in its ending, which questions the natures of justice, guilt, and harm, I was delighted by another opportunity to enjoy the high stakes courtroom dramas of attorney Erin McCabe, Trans, successful, living her best life, finding love with a good man, struggling with her family but vocally, unapologetically being simply brilliant.

In these distorted times where narratives are key, readers; trans, non-binary, queer or LGBTQ+ need to see and hear ourselves, portrayed positively in the stories we read, and Gigl’s second novel offers us a banker for the queer bookshelves and elbows her way in to, rightfully, take up some award -inning space.

More please!

Out now. For more info or to buy the book see the publisher’s website