A poised protagonist leads this serpentine but engaging legal tale.


Almost Mortal

A Virginia public defender aims to protect a priest by stopping a confessed serial killer from committing another murder in this thriller.

Sam Young is a lawyer accustomed to working off the books, especially given the amount of money that people willingly pay him. But helping Father Andrada, who was a friend to his mother, is a little more personal. Church employee Camille Paradisi tells Sam that a confessor has admitted to the priest that he’s the Rosslyn Ripper, responsible for three recent, brutal murders. Camille doesn’t know the killer’s identity but wants to find a way to keep Andrada from landing in legal trouble or breaking his vow. At the same time, someone’s sending pages of a journal to the church, possibly the killer, though there are no specifics on the Ripper murders. The journal’s author claims to have an ability akin to mind reading, much like seeing a person’s inner “framework.” Sam, as it happens, can likewise feel or probe other people’s minds. He tries to connect the manuscript and a chalice at the church—with a bit of covert DNA testing—to the Ripper case but can’t prevent a fourth murder. His apparent psychic abilities, however, may link him to the journal as well as a secret past. Despite the title hinting at something supernatural, the novel becomes more of a legal thriller. There are countless scenes, for example, of Sam with various clients, including physician Fred Torres, who owes money to a loan shark, and Nguyen Jones, who’s exonerated of child-porn charges. Jones aids Sam with his computer skills. The perpetually composed Sam carries the story with chic and humbleness. Leibig (The Black Rabbit, 2014, etc.) treats Sam’s extraordinary talent in the same way, the attorney using it both sparingly and inconspicuously. Sam rightly suspects that Camille’s not telling him everything, leading to a final act that’s virtually overflowing with revelations and twists. The author keeps all of it from spinning out of control, though a few questions go unanswered, like why Camille felt the need to mislead Sam with at least one significant piece of information. Still, the narrative could be a stand-alone or the start of a series, hopefully fronted by Sam.

A poised protagonist leads this serpentine but engaging legal tale.

Pub Date: N/A


Page Count: -

Publisher: Koehler Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2016

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A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed...

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Trying his final case at 85, celebrated criminal defense lawyer Sandy Stern defends a Nobel-winning doctor and longtime friend whose cancer wonder drug saved Stern's life but subsequently led to the deaths of others.

Federal prosecutors are charging the eminent doctor, Kiril Pafko, with murder, fraud, and insider trading. An Argentine émigré like Stern, Pafko is no angel. His counselor is certain he sold stock in the company that produced the drug, g-Livia, before users' deaths were reported. The 78-year-old Nobelist is a serial adulterer whose former and current lovers have strong ties to the case. Working for one final time alongside his daughter and proficient legal partner, Marta, who has announced she will close the firm and retire along with her father following the case, Stern must deal not only with "senior moments" before Chief Judge Sonya "Sonny" Klonsky, but also his physical frailty. While taking a deep dive into the ups and downs of a complicated big-time trial, Turow (Testimony, 2017, etc.) crafts a love letter to his profession through his elegiac appreciation of Stern, who has appeared in all his Kindle County novels. The grandly mannered attorney (his favorite response is "Just so") has dedicated himself to the law at great personal cost. But had he not spent so much of his life inside courtrooms, "He never would have known himself." With its bland prosecutors, frequent focus on technical details like "double-blind clinical trials," and lack of real surprises, the novel likely will disappoint some fans of legal thrillers. But this smoothly efficient book gains timely depth through its discussion of thorny moral issues raised by a drug that can extend a cancer sufferer's life expectancy at the risk of suddenly ending it.

A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed Innocent.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4813-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.


When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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