NO DEFENSE by Kate Wilhelm


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A lockstep, by-the-numbers legal procedural with all too few thrills. Wilhelm overcomes overwritten early scenes in which sunlight glints —like an Aztec signal on a shard of a mirror— and moves resolutely to an attention-grabbing opening in a new case for Oregon attorney Barbara Holloway (Malice Prepense, 1996, etc.). It’s a hot summer in eastern Oregon when 33-year-old nurse Lara Jessup awakens to her worst nightmare: Her 60-ish husband, Vinny, an established lawyer dying of bone cancer, has been found dead in a van on a treacherous road. An accident, suicide, or murder? That’s what Holloway needs to find out when Lara becomes the prime suspect. But there are a lot of people in the small town of Salt Creek who want to stop Holloway from discovering the truth. Primary among them are the unhappily married Judge Harris McReady and his wife, Babe, treasured daughter of prime mover and shaker Thomas Lynch. McReady is in line for a Supreme Court position and doesn—t want his reputation damaged by another murder that goes back many years. Vinny’s son, Lewis, was accused of a double homicide, then mysteriously disappeared. Vinny was certain McReady had something to do with it. Holloway does a slick but unspectacular job of ferreting out the culprits in a meticulously presented pre-trial deposition process. A minor subplot involving Barbara’s father, Frank, and his attempt to publish a book on cross-examination provides comic relief; his cooking skills offer tasty side dishes. There is also a heartfelt treatment of the emotional and moral bonds between various and sundry parents and children. But by the time Wilhelm returns from these digressive matters to trot out the solution to the mystery, the amused, well-fed reader has pretty much outguessed Holloway. Best for its regional details, fast-paced dialogue, and solid character delineation.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-312-20953-3
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Minotaur
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2000


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