Dunne’s volcanic posthumous novel follows the circus surrounding a brutal torture killing of a saintly African-American laborer.
Nobody has a bad word to say about Edgar Parlance, the local odd-jobs fixture who was partly skinned and murdered outside the bucolic hamlet of Regent, South Midlands, evidently by opportunistic thrill killers looking for a black victim. Instead, the public’s considerable fury is lavished on no-good suspects Duane Lajoie and Bryant Gover. But Duane’s half-sister, bratty Carlyle, the world’s most famous teenaged model, begs Teresa Kean, the civil-liberties lawyer whose parents Dunne killed off in Playland (1994), to defend him against both the law represented by state’s attorney J.J. McClure and the media frenzy personified by J.J.’s wife, “don’t call me Congresswoman” Poppy McClure, a right-wing tub-thumper who’s hoping to ride the case into the Governor’s mansion. Teresa enlists as her second chair J.J.’s former boss Max Cline, who was eased out of the Attorney General’s office over “lifestyle issues” and now teaches at an uncredentialed local community college, and joins battle—not to win her unwinnable case in court (once Bryant Gover turns State’s evidence, life without parole is the best she can hope for her client), but to fight the rising tide of politically expedient hatred, toadying, infighting, partisan scrambling, and attempts to claim the top of the greasy pole. The result is less a legal thriller—all hopes for a tidy resolution are dashed by a shockingly foreshortened ending—than a viciously funny carnival. Dunne stays above the fray by using Max’s pen to tar every participant, himself included, with a prose by turns jittery, racy, and venomous, and tossing off dozens of wildly inventive subplots involving such fauna as a lesbian talk-show host, a porn star turned cattle baron, and a college football hero who doesn’t mind hurting ladies.
As angry, witty, and sweeping as The Bonfire of the Vanities.