With Lochte (The Neon Smile, 1995, etc.) once more serving as copilot, O.J. prosecutor turned so-so novelist Darden (The Trials of Nikki Hill, 1999) does better in his second fictional effort.
Inevitably, it’s a courtroom drama again starring the feisty female African-American deputy D.A. for whom life is ever a bumpy path. This time out, though, Nikki Hill’s major case seems a no-brainer. Sure, the defendant is rich and powerfully connected, but it would take a far less adept prosecutor than Hill to miss nailing him—the evidence is that compelling. When Shelli Dietz is discovered shot to death, Randy Bingham III, her lover, leaps way out in front as the prime suspect. He’d just quarreled with her, Dietz’s ten-year-old son informs the police, and shortly thereafter the cops find tell-tale bloodstains (Shelli’s) on trousers Randy has attempted to hide. Without working up a sweat, Nikki gets her conviction and a chance to thumb her nose at archrival deputy DA Dana Lowery, who both hates Nikki and secretly yearns to be her. Romantically, too, Nikki’s in a rare good place, since handsome, sexy Detective Virgil Sykes teeters on the edge of commitment. At which point the authors shift into high gear, and it’s goodbye easy living for Nikki. Suddenly, body bags fill up; misunderstandings between the lovers pile up; Randy, it appears, may have been framed; Virgil and Internal Affairs play cat and mouse; a killer as monstrous as he is unlikely enters, and it all culminates in a busy, busy denouement that will leave you either breathless at its pace—or grinning at its melodrama.
The courtroom scenes are authoritative, of course, and as for the rest, no one can accuse Darden-Lochte of just going through the motions.