Debut fiction about a hayseed true-crime writer who's in upstate New York to cover a sensational murder trial. He uncovers more than he bargained for in his attempt to fit together the pieces of the victim's life--and ends up falling for the defendant. Before Amerasian Lenore Serian, ``the Black Widow,'' went on trial for killing her volcanic artist husband Bram and torching Arcadia, his sprawling studio, Owen Byrne was writing unpublished short stories in moments stolen from working his family's struggling Kansas ranch. But his agent naturally agrees to send him to Stoatsberg, New York, to gather material for a book on the trial. Owen's wide-eyed innocence gives first-novelist North the opportunity for a primer on all the legal procedures, and if you've never attended a trial or read a book about one, you'll have something to do while you're waiting for Owen--who feels a mysterious kinship to unlovely Bram--to nose out the evidence that draws him into the defense circle's confidence and wins him an exclusive interview with Lenore. Next, building on his information from her and a growing network of contacts, he'll uncover further, darker secrets about Bram's childhood in Kansas (yep, Kansas) with his monstrously abusive father and his adoptive brother Al, who kept returning to Bram's life but mysteriously disappeared after his death; his rescue (or was it an abduction?) of Lenore from Thailand during his tour of Vietnam; and his triumphant years in New York as an unexpectedly gifted sculptor and painter. Meanwhile, Owen will develop problems of his own: Haunted Lenore, who seems to be trying to exorcise Bram from Arcadia, is blowing hot and cold on their torrid romance; and newshound Holly Danielson, stung by his rejection of her own overtures, has smeared the affair all over the tabloids. Painstaking but uniquely uninvolving courtroom scenes, a wildly improbable hero and heroine, and a climactic series of revelations that will surprise only pre-law sophomores.