Has the Simpson trial soured you on the American legal system? This first novel about a writer on trial for murder makes the British system look twice as tawdry. Nobody, including the defendant himself, denies that wheelchair-bound Richard Kingsley is an unsavory character who cherishes unwholesome desires toward young girls. But did he wield the knife that stabbed teenaged Molly Summers 43 times among the rocky ruins of Stonebury Circle? Kingsley won't even give his own barrister, jaundiced Tom Fawley, a yes or no; he's content to drop oracular remarks about ``riding the Stang'' and compose even more cryptic notes (``The Past is a River of Many Streams'') that reduce the young witnesses against him to catatonic babbling. Tom's left without a clue how to conduct the defense of a client who first confessed to the murder, then whispered his determination to fight the charge as his barrister was entering his plea in court. But he fends off the prosecution's juicy hints of unspeakable druidical rites and falls back on a few unpromising leadsan alibi witness who may not exist, a witness the prosecution tried to bury, possible links to the suicide of a feminist husband-killer and to the old West Albion orphanage. Meanwhile, he's fallen as well into the velvety claws of junior prosecutor Justine Wright, who's already involved with the presiding judge but makes room for Tom, her best friend's husband. Though the sordid facts of the case and Tom's low-minded assessment of them are calculated to affront the most decorous sensibilities, the climactic series of tableaux, which force Tom to confront his own complicity with the client he so despises, will likely leave you gasping with disbelief rather than outrage. Tom's cynical approach to the practice of law is more raw and raunchy than anything in American courtroom drama. Judging from this entry, the entire British legal profession needs a good spankingand would probably love to have one.