The gloves come off in the legal slugfest that follows an accusation of child molesting in a Hudson River day-care center. At first the preschoolers' stories of nudity and strawberry jam, Popsicle sticks and poop cakes seem incredible, but psychologists and investigators working for the police press for more indictments even after a grand jury charges Laurie Coles, of the Snug Arms day-care, with 23 counts of sexual abuse. Harry Hull, the court-appointed defense lawyer plucked from the slow track to oblivion, starts out strongly suspecting his client's guilt, but the case seems too pat-- the seven children competing to top each other's accusations, the parents closing ranks against the Snug Arms (one crazy father tries to burn the place down with the owner inside), and the local jurors blandly assuring counsel that they don't know anything prejudicial about the case. Hull's real enemy, he decides, is Judge Jacko Mathes, who privately tells him that they're just going through the motions, rules against his attempts to cross-examine the children and to confront them with Laurie, and even succeeds in quashing charges against Mickey Strand, an estranged father who's caught in the courtroom stoked on cocaine with a gun in his pocket. Clearly the case is trumped up (this isn't one of those courtroom dramas that asks whodunit), but how can Hull possibly win a not-guilty verdict with the community set against him and the jury ready to convict? Only, he decides, by provoking Mathes to some action that will throw the whole case out of court. So instead of focusing on the evidence, he turns the case into a referendum on the judge's conduct, doing his best to turn the courtroom into a circus. Don't be fooled: despite the somber backdrop, a rivetingly entertaining first novel.