Righteous Frisco attorney, unwillingly drawn into the world of celebrity lawyer punditry, defends a younger version of himself on a murder charge.
Renowned San Francisco courtroom star Joseph Antonelli, who elegantly narrates his own story, succumbs to the pressure of law partner Albert Craven to appear on the popular Brian Allen Show, a public affairs program featuring talking heads at loggerheads. Other panelists include telegenic trial lawyers Paula Constable (women’s rights), Daphne McMillan (district attorney) and earnest young law professor Julian Sinclair, a firebrand who reminds the middle-aged Antonelli (and Craven) of himself as a young lawyer. So impressive is Sinclair that Craven instructs Antonelli to recruit him for their firm. Antonelli thus befriends the earnest Sinclair and is near closing the deal when he gets an uncharacteristically frantic late-night call for help from Sinclair. The brutally murdered body of Daphne McMillan is at Sinclair’s house. Antonelli agrees to defend him, though not at first convinced of his innocence. The case is made more difficult by the common belief that Daphne and Sinclair were lovers; Sinclair claims he was only her close friend and confidant. She poured out her heart to him about her unhappy marriage to Australian industrialist Robert McMillan (Rupert Murdoch–like), who emerges as the most likely suspect if Sinclair is innocent. The sincerity and integrity of prosecuting attorney Maddy Foster make the trial an extreme challenge for Antonelli, and the verdict comes about halfway through the story. Further plot developments, involving the aforementioned players, spring from the trial’s outcome and expand on Buffa’s theme of the justice system compromised if not perverted by celebrity and the sensationalism of media play, with Antonelli embarking on an obsessive quest for the entire truth.
In his seventh Antonelli outing (Breach of Trust, 2004, etc.), the often prosy Buffa has found an effective balance. His murder plot is a McGuffin for interesting ruminations on 21st-century justice.