Satisfying, if meandering, Detroit-area legal procedural continues the adventures of Charley Sloan, in a second posthumous thriller from Coughlin (Heart of Justice, 1995). If Coughlin, a former Detroit defense lawyer and judge who died on the cusp of fame in 1993, becomes the V.C. Andrews of lawyer novels, the genre would only benefit from more tales about Sloan, a thrice-married, worldly-wise, recovering alcoholic who, as he ages, takes time to indulge his conscience, do the right thing- -and occasionally get paid for it. This time, Sloan is stretched between the demands of a high-profile police corruption case involving $1 million stolen from the police informants' fund and the hunt for a serial murderer (of children) whose depredations put a severe emotional stress on Sloan's relationship with his girlfriend, Sex Crimes Detective Sue Gillis. Both plot threads suffer from gratuitous sensationalism: It's almost a given that the corruption scandal will threaten to drag down Detroit's mayor, and the serial murderer's identity is telegraphed from the start. Also, a few too many characters scramble about a landscape stretching from Detroit's dark inner city to the slush-filled exurbs where Coughlin attends AA meetings. But Sloan's dignified exploration of big-city politics and small-town evil, as well as his troubled management of the minutiae of his profession, leads to an unexpected insight: that depravity springs, more often than not, from distortions of human kindness. When not poking these burdensome plots forward, Coughlin skillfully portrays his good guys, such as saintly Father Chuck, and bad guys, including the soulless Deputy Police Chief Mark, as tragic effigies cut from the same broad, colorful cloth. Even when they're discomfiting, Coughlin's minor characters shine with a ruddy glow. Overplotted, with finely wrought characterizations and a practiced novelist's respect for the way in which unanticipated tragedy can bring on moments of quiet insight.
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