Andy Carpenter, the laziest member of the New Jersey bar, is backed into trying a six-year-old case of arson and murder on behalf of a client who admits that he’s guilty.
Whoever doused the building in Paterson’s Hamilton Village with napalm and set it aflame killed 26 people, most of them burned beyond recognition, in the process. The case has stuck in Lt. Pete Stanton’s craw, and he’s delighted to see fresh evidence that Noah Galloway, a prescription-drug abuser turned anti-drug counselor, lit the match. Nor does Galloway contest the charges; he merely insists that he never talked to Danny Butler, the state’s key witness. Faced with a client who says he’s probably guilty but disputes the evidence, Andy vows to repay Noah for rescuing Hannah, the golden retriever Andy later adopted as Tara, by fighting to exonerate him. The odds are long because Andy can’t cross-examine Butler, who’s been conveniently executed after his deposition; because Andy has no clear evidence against Noah’s guilt and no plausible alternative theory of the crime to offer; but mainly because Rosenfelt has elected to enlist against Andy’s team all the mighty powers of another nationwide conspiracy that could mean the end of the world as we know it (Dog Tags, 2010, etc.). The results will be heartwarming to dog lovers, absorbing to fans of courtroom byplay, and bemusing to readers who expect their international intrigue served up with more authority.
The verdict: canny legal maneuvering in the courtroom and out; tiresomely repetitive foreshadowing of dire events to come; and unconvincingly inflated threats against the nation, as if the characters’ welfare didn’t supply enough rooting interest.