Patterson, who’s evidently never met a legal issue he couldn’t turn into page-turning fiction, takes on the vexed problem of capital punishment.
The evidence against Rennell Price and his drug-wholesaler brother Payton was overwhelming. A neighbor saw the two of them pull nine-year-old Thuy Sen off the street as she walked home from her Bayview school. Traces of hair, semen, and saliva were found in the house where they lived with their grandmother and in the trunk of the car belonging to Payton’s lieutenant, Eddie Fleet, who in due course testified that he’d helped them dump the body into San Francisco Bay. As if the facts weren’t damning enough, their lawyer was a self-confessed incompetent who took the case (thriftily bundling their defenses together) in order to support his crack habit. Following their swift convictions, the Prices have sat for 15 years on Death Row as their appeals ground through the system. Now Teresa Paget is handling Rennell’s final appeal as the clock ticks down. Patterson (Balance of Power, 2003, etc.) cunningly doles out hopeful new developments in the tiniest increments imaginable as Terri, her stepson Carlo Paget, and their habeas corpus team prepare round after round of their appeal, laboring under the draconian strictures of the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and eventually working their way up to the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Caroline Masters (The Final Judgment, 1995). Throughout their legal travails on behalf of a defendant Terri believes is both retarded and innocent, Patterson miraculously keeps the most recondite political, moral, and philosophical issues clear. But he’s less successful in creating three-dimensional characters to incarnate these dilemmas. The result is one of those rare thrillers whose most exciting parts—and there are plenty of them—are its most abstract legal arguments.
Middling in-and-out-of-courtroom drama, but a superior example of contemporary muckraking.