Brilliant criminal defense attorney reluctantly helps his law-school roommate, who just happens to be vice president of the US, through a murder trial about a decades-old crime.
In his sixth recorded case (Star Witness, 2003, etc.), renowned and righteous courtroom celebrity Joseph Antonelli gets summoned by Harvard Law pal Thomas Stern Browning, who’s stuck unrewardingly as veep to lackluster President Walker and bitter about it. Walker’s Republican administration seems to bear a strong resemblance to its current real-life counterpart (his candidacy, for instance, gained traction in the South Carolina primary via dirty tricks). A long-forgotten tragedy has faintly shadowed Browning in the 30-plus years since he and Antonelli were at Harvard: Beautiful Annie Malraux, at the center of a romantic triangle involving Browning and fellow student James Havilland, took a fatal plunge (or was pushed) from a high window. Both men were implicated, though the incident was ruled an accident and at the time not pursued by the police. In the intervening years, the broken Havilland, once the most likely to succeed, has had a mediocre life while Browning has steadily risen in the political sphere, his only misstep agreeing to work in bland Walker’s shadow. Browning and Havilland both tell Antonelli that they suspect the other in Annie’s death. Someone powerful and anonymous, either an enemy of the administration or one of the many Browning haters within the administration, presses for a prosecution of Annie’s “murder,” and Browning asks Antonelli to represent whomever is indicted. However the case shakes out, Browning knows that he will be damaged politically and wants it dealt with as efficiently as possible. For Antonelli, taking the case means a reunion with college love Joanna, unhappily married to Browning. Further complicating matters is Antonelli’s friendship with Havilland and the zeal of ambitious prosecutor Bartholomew Caminetti.
Buffa’s front-loaded plot relies on character nuance more than courtroom dramatics, while his elaborate prose will strike some readers as profound and others as pretentious.