Public defender Kaul’s first novel stars a figure hitherto neglected by legal eagles: the trial consultant whose specialty is picking the right jury.
Nothing in Kate Summerlin’s extensive experience has prepared her for the twists and turns that her two latest cases pose. In one of them, the Urinator, né Rick Wrenshaw, has already admitted to shooting his neighbor Harold Pike six times after the deceased called Rick, who’s on the short side, a garden gnome; Kate’s charge is not to get her client off but to get him life in prison instead of a one-way trip to the death house. In the other, wayward mustard heiress Elsie Stiltson publicly posted an unauthorized photograph of Officer Mike Beckwith, an undercover Kansas City cop who was shot and crippled by drug boss Ulturo Mendiro’s family retainers after his cover was blown; the question is how much responsibility Elsie bore for his injuries. There are lots of complications in store, but the biggest and trickiest is the kidnapping of Kate’s lecherous boss, Dr. Walter Townsend, by a Santa Claus lookalike and two hapless henchmen who are convinced that (1) the person they’ve snatched is actually Townsend’s partner, Kate’s mentor Dr. Farley Greene, and (2) the abduction will put pressure on Kate to blow Beckwith’s case by hook or crook. More challenges for the increasingly beleaguered heroine arrive via a cornucopia of experts, crooks and bystanders, most of them, even the walk-ons, certified zanies, before a happy but thoroughly confusing denouement in a funhouse that provides an apt metaphor for the whole enterprise.
Though it could have used a firmer editorial hand and a few more drafts, Kaul’s debut sparkles as brightly as a cubic zirconium ringed by paste diamonds. More, please, but a little bit less next time.