A step up for Amiel (Star Time, 1991, etc.) as he plots a strong courtroom meller that hooks you fast--and pulls you straight through to a knotty, post-courtroom surprise ending. Amiel also goes for deeper thoughts than usual, with burned- out hero, criminal defender Dan Lazar, sunk in spiritual disbelief. The main story details the high-gloss lives of old money in Philadelphia, but it's anchored in the gutter tricks of Lazar as he gets a rapist-murderer off the hook, as well as a boorish Mafia chieftain. Lazar's reputation is so shady, in fact, that even though he's innocent of wrongdoing his license gets lifted for six months, a bad blot on his honor. Meanwhile, he falls for Susan Boelter, wife-then-widow of wealthy publisher Peter Boelter--head of the prestigious Philadelphia Herald, whose city desk, pressroom, union problems, and plant layout get plenty of play. Peter wants to sell the family paper to the owner of the ailing local tabloid, the Mirror, the Herald's only rival. The Herald will then fade into the Mirror. Susan, however, has inherited controlling stock because Peter's father didn't trust his wild son, and she's against the sale (which would bring Peter personally $60 million). So Peter sues for divorce, cuts Susan off from all income, and--trying to sway her vote--behaves like a monster, especially in seducing the affections of their daughter Karen. When Peter is found dead at the bottom of the cellar stairs, the medical examiner declares the death a homicide by a blunt instrument. Susan calls in Dan Lazar to defend her, who pleads to have his license returned for the case. Subplots about the rapist gone rampant and other dirty deeds multiply until the day in court arrives.... Reader sympathies are dizzied by the resolution's who-did- what-to-whom tennis match, but you're likely to go through with it. Neat storytelling with the usual suspects--though you'll never guess who did it.