KEY WITNESS by J.F. Freedman


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 Superior, improbable, but gripping postO.J. legal procedural that fearlessly plays well-worn race, sex, and psychokiller cards, and still wins the game. Wyatt Matthews, a middle-aged seven-figure-salaried rainmaker lawyer, is burned out from too much easy money. In an attempt to recapture the illusion of integrity that once seemed so necessary, he signs up for six months of pro bono labor in the Public Defender's Office, where he gets a stack of color-coded felony files and advice to plea-bargain as many of his charges as possible. When one of them, an incompetent holdup homeboy named Marvin White, is connected to a series of sickening rape-slasher killings, Matthews finds his crusade and decides to defend White with all the tricks of the trade. It isn't going to be easy: White is an 18-year-old semiliterate black male, and the state has what would appear to be incontrovertible lab evidence showing his guilt. Freedman (House of Smoke, 1996, etc.) piles it on a little thick with some of the villains--one has a reproduction of the Sistine Chapel's ceiling tattooed on his back, with the Devil sticking his finger out to Adam--but he invests the other familiar summer-stock players with charming eccentricities and puts them in extravagantly over-the-top settings. Despite a manipulatory plot that demands one too many contrivances to keep the suspense churning, Freedman delivers a powerfully absorbing tale of justice gone almost, but not quite, out of control. What we imagine to be a rigid, hidebound legal system is, it seems, a clash of personalities in which, every once in a while, the good guys win. An intensely accomplished, smoothly written, character-driven page-turner that, for all its flaws, manages to push the right buttons while sustaining a high level of suspense and interest. (Literary Guild/Mystery Guild selection)

Pub Date: Aug. 4th, 1997
ISBN: 0-525-94334-X
Page count: 544pp
Publisher: Dutton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1997


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