Book Review: The Plinko Bounce by Martin Clark

Happy book birthday plus one to Martin Clark! His latest, The Plinko Bounce, is out now from Rare Bird Books.

  • Title: The Plinko Bounce
  • Author: Martin Clark
  • Where to buy: Amazon (affiliate link)
  • Genre: Legal Thriller
  • Would I recommend: Absolutely. This is a thoughtful, well-paced legal drama that kept me engaged all the way through.


For seventeen years, small-town public defender Andy Hughes has been underpaid to look after the poor, the addicted, and the unfortunate souls who constantly cycle through the courts, charged with petty crimes.

Then, in the summer of 2020, he’s assigned to a grotesque murder case that brings national media focus to rural Patrick County, Virginia—Alicia Benson, the wife of a wealthy businessman, is murdered in her home. The accused killer, Damian Bullins, is a cunning felon with a long history of violence, and he confesses to the police. He even admits his guilt to Andy. But a simple typographical error and a shocking discovery begin to complicate the state’s case, making it possible Bullins might escape punishment.

Duty-bound to give his client a thorough defense, Andy—despite his misgivings—agrees to fight for a not-guilty verdict, a decision that will ultimately force him to make profound, life-and-death choices, both inside and outside the courtroom.

With its unforgettable characters, insider’s blueprint of the justice system, intricate plotting, and provocative, no-holds-barred ending, The Plinko Bounce demonstrates once again why Martin Clark has been called “the thinking man’s John Grisham” by The New York Times and praised as “hands down, our finest legal-thriller writer” by  Entertainment Weekly .

My review:

They say write what you know, and Martin Clark does a bang-up job of it. His latest, The Plinko Bounce, gives us a look into the inner workings of the legal system through the eyes of battle-weary public defender Andy Hughes.

For seventeen years, Andy has done his best to provide a zealous defense to the small-time crooks, cons, grifters, and general ne’er-d0-wells of his little corner of Virginia. He’s just about ready to hang it up. The ink isn’t even dry on his resignation when he is assigned to represent one Damian Bullins, charged with the murder of Alicia Benson, wife of a wealthy businessman. Andy agrees to stay on until the case is complete.

There’s a confession. Blood on the defendant’s clothes that matches that of the victim. At first Andy reckons it will be a matter of negotiating the best deal he can and having his client plead guilty. But then he realizes that the form from which Bullins was read his Miranda rights was missing a very important sentence. This could make all the difference to Bullins’ defense, and whether he likes it or not, Andy is obligated to pursue this possibility.

Andy doesn’t come off as a smooth-tongued shyster out to stick it to the man. He struck me as a defense lawyer more along the lines of Matlock – likable, professional, sometimes ill at ease with the path he pursued, but determined to uphold his ethical obligation to defend his client to the best of his ability. (I think Matlock generally had more likable clients, though!) He doesn’t promise his client a not guilty verdict, and he doesn’t ignore the fact that Bullins is a lowlife who actually committed the crime he’s accused of. He just works with the facts handed to him and does it well.

In a former part of my life, I was a prosecutor. I appreciated the way that Clark portrays the relationship between the prosecution and the defense attorneys. It isn’t all mudslinging and ugliness, as TV shows might want you to believe. Andy and his colleagues on both sides of the bar were, by and large, professional and respectful to each other, even cordial. That’s as it should be, and in most cases, how it really is.

This isn’t a fast-paced action thriller, but it doesn’t have to be. Even knowing how the system works, even having been a part of it myself, the tension in waiting to see where things went next was enough to keep me turning pages well past my bedtime.

I also liked the fact that the focus wasn’t solely on the legal drama (although that was plenty!). Andy had a life, and sometimes life and work butted up against each other. His actions as an attorney, a single dad, and a man newly in love all rang true.

This was my first Martin Clark book, but it won’t be my last. If you’re looking for a masterfully crafted legal thriller that will keep you hooked from beginning to end, this is it.

Thanks to Kaye Publicity and Rare Bird Books for a review copy. All opinions here are mine, and I don’t say nice things about books I don’t actually like.

About the author:

Martin Clark is often praised as our best legal-thriller writer (Entertainment Weekly, The Washington Times, Winston-Salem Journal).  His sly, smart books, however, aren’t just courtroom thrillers.  Because of his distinctive, genre-bending style, he’s also been compared to Walker Percy and T.R. Pearson (Oxford American), Tom McGuane and Nick Hornby (New York Times Book Review), Elmore Leonard (Los Angeles Times), and even Hunter S. Thompson (The Denver Post).  His latest novel, THE PLINKO BOUNCE (September 12) once again showcases his unique talent, prompting Adriana Trigiani to note: “Martin’s canon… has a permanent place of honor in American Literature.”

Martin is a retired Virginia circuit court judge, who served twenty-seven years on the bench.  His novels have appeared on numerous bestseller lists and have been chosen as a New York Times Notable Book, a New York Times Editors’ Choice, a Washington Post Book World Best Book of the Year, a Bookmarks magazine Best Book of the Year, a Boston Globe Best Book of the Year, a Book-of-the-Month Club selection, a finalist for the Stephen Crane First Fiction Award, and the winner of the Library of Virginia’s People’s Choice Award in 2009, 2016 and 2020.  Martin received the Patrick County Outstanding Community Service Award in 2016 and the Virginia State Bar’s Harry L. Carrico Professionalism Award in 2018.   He and his wife, Deana, live on a farm with dogs, cats, chickens and three donkeys.

Connect online: Website | Facebook

This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Contemporary Fiction, Crime Fiction, Legal Thriller, Mystery, Southern Fiction and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Book Review: The Plinko Bounce by Martin Clark

  1. I love the sound of this, and especially the fact that the author has first hand experience. Thanks for sharing😁

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