JUST CAUSE by John Katzenbach


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A seen-it-all Miami crime reporter, Matthew Cowart, reopens the case of an inmate waiting on backwoods Florida's death row to be executed for the sex murder of young Joanie Shriver and succeeds in overturning his conviction--only to have his own worst nightmares come true. The convicted killer--a sharp black college student named Robert Earl Ferguson--not only tells Cowart the grounds on which he ought to be sprung (a confession was beaten out of him by local officers Tanny Brown and Bruce Wilcox; his elderly court-appointed lawyer never called his grandmother to give him an alibi; a key witness was told he'd been arrested before she was asked to identify his car), but he also gives Cowart the name of the real killer: hated fellow inmate Blair Sullivan, slated for execution for his own killing spree. And Sullivan (who's obviously spent some time with The Silence of the Lambs) toys with Cowart in several creepy scenes before revealing to him the location of the murder weapon in the Shriver case, and then, on the eve of Ferguson's hearing, sends a letter to the girl's parents exulting in the killing. Sensation: Ferguson is released; Cowart wins a Pulitzer; and Sullivan, one more murder to his credit, goes to the chair--but not before a pair of new murders suggest that Ferguson and Sullivan may have cooked up the whole scheme between them. From here on in it's familiar territory for psycho-baiter Katzenbach (The Traveler, 1987; Day of Reckoning, 1989, etc.), as Cowart closes ranks with Tanny Brown and rookie Keys Det. Andrea Shaeffer (hot on Cowart's tail to find out what he knows about those last two murders) to smoke out Ferguson from his lair in Newark before his next lecture/killing tour of the Florida panhandle. So grossly overextended that you'll see every twist coming pages away--but Katzenbach does keep the suspense mounting from the gloomy opening to the cartoonish denouement.

Pub Date: Feb. 6th, 1992
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Putnam