A twisty, swiftly paced second legal thriller puts Ellis (Line of Vision, 2001, winner of an Edgar Allan Poe Award) into the ring with Scott Turow.
Jon Soliday, legal counsel to state Senator Grant Tully, discovers that Langdon Trotter, Tully’s opponent in the upcoming governor’s race, submitted an invalid petition. The irregularity will knock Trotter out of the contest—which, polls indicate, he leads. But Tully tells Soliday that going public with the information might backfire, making the underdog look petty. Instead, Tully suggests that Soliday inform lawyer Dale Garrison about the fake petition and let Garrison use the information to blackmail Trotter into throwing the race. Soliday hates the tactic, but not as much as he hates Trotter’s conservative politics. Just before he meets Garrison, however, it’s Soliday who receives an anonymous blackmail note. Hand over $250,000, it threatens, or “the secret that nobody knows” will go to “the senator.” Soliday sees Garrison, who likes Tully’s plan—but, after the meeting, someone murders Garrison. Since Soliday was alone in the lawyer’s office at the time, he’s suspect numero uno. His plot revving up, Ellis cuts back to 1979. Tully and Soliday, high-school buddies, party with drugs, booze, and a woman who comes on to Soliday. After she and Soliday have heavy sex, the woman is found dead. Did Soliday do it? Is this possible murder “the secret nobody knows”? Soliday claims he blacked out and doesn’t remember. Return to 2000, as emotionally coiled lawyer Bennett Carey fights for Soliday. Proceedings appear to move in Soliday’s favor, but then they turn in another direction. And another. Then another, as Ellis twists matters perhaps one time too many. Still, his case clearly shows that clues, like law and politics, can be turned to cast doubt or favor on anyone.
This one’s all about the puzzle (character detail, though significant, seems familiar and obligatory)—and what a tricky, surprising puzzle it is.