Patterson bounces back from his ill-advised account of an ancient campus homicide (The Spire, 2009) to what he does best: using the latest headlines—in this case, stories of the Iraq War’s crippling home-front aftershocks—to fuel another high-concept thriller.
Nobody disputes the fact that Lt. Brian McCarran killed Capt. Joe D’Abruzzo. Brian himself admits shooting at his old commanding officer when he came to Brian’s quarters in Fort Bolton, Va., to demand the return of the pistol Brian had taken from his nightstand three days earlier, after D’Abruzzo’s wife Kate had told him that her husband had pointed it at her head and threatened to shoot. It made perfect sense that Kate would call on Brian for help, since, as the goddaughter of Brian’s father, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Anthony McCarran, she’d grown up with Brian. In fact, hints soon arise that Brian and Kate may have been even closer than childhood friends. However justified he may have been in confiscating D’Abruzzo’s handgun, however, Brian had no excuse for shooting him four times, putting the last bullet in his back. Or did he? Capt. Paul Terry, a JAG attorney who’s about to leave the service for a lucrative position in a New York firm, thinks he may have a shot at the PTSD defense that’s eluded every attorney who’s ever tried it. Could Brian have shot his old CO either in self-defense, or under the deluded impression that D’Abruzzo was about to kill him? Partnering with Brian’s sister Meg, who resigns her job in the San Francisco DA’s office to join in his defense, Terry works to excavate the Iraq War history that put Brian on a collision course with D’Abruzzo.
There’s nothing very surprising about the alleged surprises. But Patterson runs a taut ship in the courtroom, and his crafty dissection of the problems of traumatized veterans returning home will have older readers fondly recalling Anatomy of a Murder.