Rule of Capture

Written by Ona Russell
Review by Ellen Keith

Rule of Capture is the third book in Russell’s series featuring Ohioan Sarah Kaufman in the 1920s. Sarah works as a probate officer in Toledo but is currently in Los Angeles, ostensibly attending a conference, but instead avidly following the trial of the Julian Petroleum Corporation, which swindled Sarah and countless others out of their savings.

Los Angeles in 1928 is a far cry from Sarah’s hometown. The trial evokes a veiled anti-Semitism, and when Sarah gets drawn into the murder of a Mexican woman whom she had briefly met, racism enters the picture as well. Encountering Carlos Martinez in the courtroom, she finds him a sympathetic ear and soon more as she’s drawn into an affair with him, ignoring calls from her reporter lover in Toledo. Carlos has his own reasons for keeping Sarah close, but, in private, has no small amount of scorn for Jews.

This is a dense but fascinating book. It’s not just the Ponzi scheme of the Julian trial but the pro-union activism of Carlos, accompanied by sabotage, the references to Sarah’s possible drinking problem, and then the out-of-nowhere denouement, which still made sense, as startling as it was. Sarah is an all-too-human character, wanting revenge, seeking justice, making poor decisions, but using her head to figure things out. I look forward to Russell’s fourth in the series and intend to find the first two.