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Densely woven legal thriller explores the human-scale motives for Balkan genocide through a painstaking analogy to a home-front civil suit for wrongful death.

Two years ago, former railroad attorney Elliot Stone served as conservator for Dale Stillwell, a brakeman crippled in a switching-yard accident. June Mooney, the switching engineer whose train had accidentally crushed Stillwell, had nursed him devotedly unto holy wedlock, and at the fadeout, both Stillwell and his bride were in a position to benefit handsomely from a railroad company settlement—though Stone can’t help but be disturbed by Stillwell’s dissociated remark: “I’m going to k-kill her.” Now, back from a horrific stint as the lead prosecutor in the case of a small-town mayor accused of ordering the murder of all the non-Serb male patients in a local hospital, Stone is plunged into the Stillwell case again in an unexpected new capacity. June Stillwell—who’s been hospitalized, the comatose victim of a vicious attack for which her husband is the sole, albeit uncharged, suspect—needs a conservator herself, especially since her daughter April plans to file a civil suit against Dale Stillwell. Unfortunately, the entire settlement Stillwell was awarded will be exempt from any judgment unless the charge is wrongful death. And then June, who’d slipped back from surprising progress into deep coma again, providently dies. After preliminary skirmishing, Stone and his one-time railroad adversary, Paige Jorritsma, join forces in the suit against Stillwell, duly noting that he’s protected by a dream team of legal talent, and by Dr. Hans Leiter, the same All-Star psychiatrist who’d worked shoulder to shoulder with Stone in Greater Serbia.

Readers who can tough out the methodical opening chapters in which Kerr (Harmful Intent, 1999, etc.) sets up the parallels between Stone’s Balkan sabbatical and the Stillwell calamity will be rewarded with a tour de force cross-examination and a provocative meditation on vanity, betrayal, and evil.

Pub Date: May 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-7432-1117-0
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2002