Politician, polemicist, power-figure Malachi Reese is black, as charismatic as they come, and only slightly less scary than Hannibal Lecter. Which is not to say he actually eats people, but he does have a lot of them killed--without compunction and, seemingly, with impunity. At long last, however, he's been convicted of first-degree murder. Despite this, he remains beloved in his community--even able, while awaiting execution and supposedly isolated, to recruit a striking force of loyal, lethal commandoes. Most of these he aims at Chris Sinclair, the San Antonio D.A. who put him where he is. The two men hate each other instinctively. Reese arranges the murder of an assistant D.A., a young man close to Chris--a ""message"" murder. ""I did it to get at you,"" he tells Chris. ""To show you you can't even protect your own."" Quickly arrested, the killer, Reese's surrogate, goes on trial. At first the case is reassuringly solid, but little by little it heads south, undermined craftily by the malevolent ""angel"" on death row. In the end it comes down to one on one--Reese against Sinclair, mirror images of each other--in a courtroom battle that has little to do with legal issues. As he has in the past (Defiance County, 1996, etc.), Brandon occasionally allows himself to be suckered by the siren song of melodrama. But forgive him his purple patches, and he'll have you eagerly turning pages.