Author reveals how the legal game is ‘Played’ in latest mystery

Played by Michael A. Kahn

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

St. Louis lawyer Michael A. Kahn has entertained mystery novel fans for more than a decade with his series of nine books centered on the career of Rachel Gold, whose St. Louis legal activities often move from the mundane into the territory of classic hard-boiled mysteries.  

Gold, however, makes only a brief but significant cameo appearance in Kahn’s new novel, “Played” (Poisoned Pen Press, $15.95), his third that does not revolve around his central character. Fans of Rachel will miss her.

In “Played,” the author again demonstrates his skills at turning out engrossing page-turners that keep the reader guessing until the end. This time, Kahn, a Harvard Law School graduate and respected trial lawyer, centers his action on a very odd couple of brothers who are about as different as two siblings can possibly be.

Milton Bernstein, a “brilliant workaholic” nerd and even boring in his day-to-day demeanor, is a pit bull when it comes to all things legal, and ferocious in his commitment to his clients. 

Milton’s younger, Hollywood-handsome brother Hal, on the other hand, is a high school baseball hero in St. Louis. He seems well on his way to an outstanding career as a major league pitcher when a hand injury in a motorcycle accident destroys his prospects.


Hal continues to leverage his good looks and sports hero reputation while leading a lounge lizard life as a lifeguard at the Chatham Old Country Club, where the elite meet to eat and check out available “cougars” eager for sex without commitment.

While Hal’s roving eye fixes on numerous moving targets at the Chatham watering hole, he more than meets his match in Cherry, “the bombshell third wife of St. Louis’ most sharklike litigator, Lester Pitt.” 

Unfortunately for the hapless Hal, sex with Cherry is even more volcanic than he had anticipated. He surrenders all perspective to his lustful desires. As he staggers into a trap set by his lover, it becomes increasingly obvious that he is incapable of protecting himself from her wiles — and those of her conniving husband.

Hal is soon to discover that the smoldering, sexual adventure he shares with Cherry is very costly, indeed risky to his survival.  

And if things were not complicated enough, brother Milton is trying to set a legal trap for Pitt, whom he suspects of running a multimillion dollar insurance scam that bilks many of Milton’s personal injury clients. 

One ofPitt’s loyal henchmen, Billy Bledsoe, knows how to “handle” some of Pitt’s enemies. The quiet legal nerd Milton more than doubles his personal risk by taking on both his brother’s criminal case as well as attempting to bring the ruthless Pitt to justice.

Kahn’s love of the practice of law and all its complexities and contradictions is evident in all of his novels, and  “Played” is no exception. His colorful cast of characters includes the Honorable Roy L. Stubbs of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, who holds a grudge against Pitt; and Stubbs’ docket clerk, Rahsan Abdullah Ahmed (nee Lamar Williams), who proves to be extremely knowledgeable about the intricacies of legal procedure and immensely helpful to his boss.

St. Louis readers will find many local references to enjoy, including O’Connell’s Pub, the St. Louis Business Journal and the intricate sewer system intertwined with the infamous River Des Peres, in which some of the most nail-biting action takes place.

With “Played,” Kahn again demonstrates his chops as a first-rate mystery writer. The novel is thought provoking,  informative and entertaining.