In Thompson’s (Dead Peasants, 2013, etc.) new legal thriller, an attorney works his first criminal case, defending his mentally ill brother against murder charges.
After Debbie Robinson is attacked and killed on her morning jog, police quickly a pinpoint a suspect: Dan Little, a paranoid schizophrenic who ran away from the scene of the crime. The cops think they’ve got their man, since he was found with Debbie’s braceletand her blood on his sneaker. But Dan’s half brother, Wayne, a lawyer who specializes in civil cases, believes that Dan is innocent. A plea of insanity seems like the best option, but that’s not so easy to prove in a Texas court, and Wayne has his work cut out for him: Dan’s latest experimental medications make him seem uncharacteristically lucid, and Wayne’s expert witness may be hitting the bottle too hard. The assistant district attorney, meanwhile, has her own expert: Dr. Frederick Parke, a forensic psychiatrist, who’s secretly the perpetrator of the crime. Meanwhile, Wayne’s friend and love interest, Rita, a computer tech and former private investigator, looks into a pattern of murders of female joggers, hoping to exonerate Dan by exposing a serial killer. Thompson’s novel initially feels slow-paced, as it follows the terrifying assault on Debbie with a significant amount of back story about the Littles, Rita and Dr. Parke. However, this section effectively establishes the subsequent story, which reveals Parke’s twisted mentality (he’s murdering people as part of a personal study on serial killing). There’s also a surprisingly understated romance between Wayne and Rita which develops as the story progresses. The author does diminish the suspense by divulging the murderer’s identity and making readers confident of Dan’s innocence so early; it also somewhat lessens the impact of the showdown between Wayne and Parke when the scientist is finally called to testify on the stand. However, the courtroom scenes often soar; they’re intoxicating when Wayne pokes holes in the prosecutors’ case and nail-biting when the assistant district attorney tears apart the defense’s witnesses.
A slow-starting legal thriller that later shows its teeth with fierce courtroom drama.