Cool, contrived, but smooth and by-the-numbers debut thriller pits a recovering alcoholic judge against a blackmailing ex-con. After three true-crime books (Forever and Five Days, 1992, etc.), Cauffiel applies Elmore Leonard's mano † mano formula on Leonard's home turf, Detroit. Forty-ish Wayne County Circuit Judge Nelson Connor, unnerved by the despair that haunts his inner-city courtroom and the chilly silences of his marriage, knocks back a few too many at a local dive, where his Wayne State college chum Jimmy Osborne, a good boy gone sleazy, gives him a vial of cocaine to prop up his spirits. Showing less wisdom than one would think possible, Connor not only accepts the drug but writes Osborne a check for the merchandise and stupidly pockets the vial. A few hours later, cops haul a seriously drunken Connor out of his car for reckless driving. They find the vial in Connor's car but agree to let him off lightly. Then Connor refuses to disqualify himself as Osborne's sentencing judge, hoping that no one will find out that they're buddies. All this provides grist for the grinding stone of Lawrence Gary, a maliciously cunning ex-con photographer who gets his hands on Connor's check, tries to blackmail the judge, and maneuvers himself into a tawdry affair with Connor's wife Katherine. Embraced by the treacly sweet camaraderie of a local AA chapter, Connor tries to hold Gary off until Gary actually kidnaps Katherine, forcing a climax involving pistols and fisticuffs on the dramatically scenic Mackinaw Straits Bridge. Cauffiel's crooks are standard issue and his formulaic plot offers few surprises, but his disillusioned, morally conflicted judge carries the show as he struggles to stay on the wagon while fighting for the ideals he used to cherish. Derivative, gear-grindingly slow in places, but strongly evocative of the mean-spirited, morally bankrupt placelessness of Motor City and environs.