Teenaged witches, DNA evidence, Megan's Law, belladonna-laced tea, and an honest ex-con addicted to Jeopardy!, all mixed up in a well-researched if slightly disappointing small-town legal drama by veteran Picoult (Plain Truth, 2000, etc.).
Honest prep-school teacher and soccer coach Jack St. Bride has just completed an unjust sentence for statutory rape, to which he pleaded guilty only because a lazy lawyer persuaded him to hedge his bets. Somewhat unbelievably, he managed to escape being raped in prison by telling the brutal Mountain Felcher, "You're not going to break me." When he stops in Salem Falls, New Hampshire, to begin anew, things start looking up as he falls swiftly in love with his employer, fragile diner-owner Addie Peabody. The fact that she "tasted of coffee and loneliness" upon first kiss does not hinder Jack, but the law does: as a convicted sexual offender, he's required to register with the local police, and of course they can't keep a secret. Before long, there's widespread paranoia about the "dangerous rapist" on the loose in Salem Falls. Foremost of the alarmists is Amos Duncan, head of Duncan Pharmaceuticals, the town's only major corporation. His ire is exacerbated when his weird daughter Gillian, a devoted Wiccan, sets into action a chain of events that snares Jack in another rape charge—this time not merely statutory. One-third of the way in, the story turns into a courtroom battle between civil-liberties eccentric Jordan McAfee and sanctimonious prosecutor Matt Houlihan. Picoult's depiction of the legal process is excellent, especially her intriguing and thorough explanation of DNA evidence, and the narrative is impressively complicated, with a couple of eye-opening surprises. A few of the resolutions, however, seem contrived, and when the language turns lyrical or metaphorical, it falls flat.
Colorful, but best for those who don't mind Picoult's heavily sentimental style.