An engaging courtroom drama along the Turow/Grisham line—the author’s debut.
A woman and her 12-year-old daughter enter a house; a witness outside hears six shots fired. Inside, the woman’s husband lies dead. The problem, of course, is an old one: How can it be proved which person committed the murder? The wrinkle in Campbell’s novel is that almost immediately after the murder the daughter lies in a catatonic state, the result of either having committed a violent act or having seen a violent act committed. The defense lawyers rush to trial, in part so that the killing can be pinned on the unresponsive daughter, now confined in a psychiatric hospital. The defense is successful, but immediately after the verdict the daughter wakes up from her catatonia and matter-of-factly claims that her mother was the killer. The ultimate twist of Campbell’s novel is that the same lawyers are now hired to defend the daughter, but they have just “proved” her guilt and now must argue the other side, blaming the mother for the murder. The novel’s premier character is Dan Morgan—former Marine, devotee of cigarettes, Coors beer and a brilliant defense lawyer. (It’s a little hard to credit that the “best legal mind in America” is partner in a law firm in Phoenix and keeps his cigarette pack rolled up in his socks.) The narrator is Doug McKenzie, a newly minted lawyer who is Morgan’s naïve associate on the case and who is not, he admits, “a threat for Boy Orator of Arizona.” While McKenzie feels Morgan’s charismatic pull, he is also aware that Morgan might be manipulating him in order to clear his clients. Morgan’s penchant for benders eventually leads to the necessity of McKenzie making the closing argument in the daughter’s trial.
Ingenious plot, serviceable prose. But as in the best examples of this genre, Campbell keeps the pages turning.