A lawyer defends her son—or thinks she does—in a trial that’s packed with surprise and significance.
Once again (Life Sentence, 2003, etc.), Ellis’s larger subject is the law and the treacherous eddies that can pull down a case, its just issues notwithstanding. His third outing starts with Shelly Trotter, an attorney who represents troubled students at the Child Advocacy Project in a city Ellis doesn’t name but that appears to be Chicago, his hometown. One of Shelly’s charges, the appealing Alex Baniewicz, is accused of dealing drugs and shooting and killing police officer Raymond Miroballi. Shelly wants attorney Paul Riley to take the case, but Riley entreats Shelly to do it. Shelly hesitates, never having tried a capital murder case. But even more of a concern than that is a matter she recently uncovered: Baniewicz is apparently her son. In a series of flashbacks, Ellis traces Shelly’s troubled past. After being raped, she considered abortion, but decided instead to put her son up for adoption, an incident that, if made public, could derail the reelection campaign of her father, conservative Governor Langdon Trotter. Another complication comes from federal agents who inform Shelly that Alex was their snitch in an attempt to nab officer Miroballi, who, they suspect, had been dealing drugs. Building a case to defend Alex, Shelly investigates a violent drug gang justly known as the Cannibals, probing Alex’s possible involvement with the gang, as well as that of his friend Ronnie Masters, who gradually emerges as Miroballi’s suspected killer. Then comes another revelation: Ronnie, a likely killer, is Shelly’s son, not Alex. This twist sets the story’s last third spinning as Ellis tightens, then ties up, a solid case.
Unlike the mob of hacks who want to be the next Grisham, Ellis is never glib, hackneyed, or tiresome. In style, plot, and character, he engages and entertains.