In a lumbering courtroom thriller, criminal lawyer Joseph Antonelli becomes convinced that the murder of a US senator resulted from an international plot.
The facts of Senator Jeremy Fullerton’s murder seem simple enough. On a foggy night in San Francisco, Fullerton is found shot to death in his car. At the scene minutes after the murder, police spot black youth Jamaal Washington bolting from the car. They fire, nearly killing him, then find Fullerton’s wallet at his side. Yet when Antonelli hears Washington’s straightforward version of what happened, the lawyer believes the youth is innocent. Would that Buffa (The Judgment, 2001) were so direct as he brings Antonelli back to try another case. Buffa repeats details of subplots two and three times, turning the book into a tedious holding pattern. Fullerton’s widow insists her husband was the American Dream incarnate, even if he was having an affair with Ariella Goldman. The daughter of wealthy Lawrence Goldman, Ariella takes up Fullerton’s race for governor, a move that pleases Daddy just fine—he wants her to be president someday. Then, reaching into the thriller grab bag, Buffa brings on former KGB agent Andrei Bogdonovitch to whisper into Antonelli’s ear conspiracy theories linking Fullerton to the Soviets. This latter plotline becomes so plausible (though not involving) that when the trial starts, proceedings, focused on the night of the crime, lack whatever suspense they might have offered. Wedged into the narrative are frequent references to The Great Gatsby, the not too startling point being that people still sell their birthrights to get ahead. In a bid for grace and art, the closing paragraph makes a bold, embarrassing allusion to Gatsby: “I stood for a while at the water’s edge. . . staring out across the water at the city, shimmering in the night, drawing everything toward it.”
Not all legal thrillers have the sound of money.