This latest novel by the author of The Devil's Advocate opens in a sleepy Italian village just outside Siena. A 24-year-old woman shoots and kills Belloni, Mayor of the village- a murder she has contemplated for 16 years, ever since her widowed mother was executed by Belloni on the charge of selling information to the Germans. The action is divided then between the resultant trial and the equally impassioned drama of the Ascolinis, ""padronal family"" of the village, their friends and lovers -- all of this brought to a climax by the circumstances of the trial. The characters in the family drama include Doctor Alberto Ascolini, a 65-year-old widower, brilliant and domineering, one of the most successful advocates in Rome; his married daughter Valeria whom he has moulded in his own image and whose promiscuous passions he has indulged; his son-in-law, Carlo Rienzi, an unsuccessful husband in Ascolini's home and dependent protege in his law office. Convinced that he must prove himself as a lawyer in his own right before he can be a successful husband, Rienzi takes on the defense of the young murderess, Anna Albertini, who evinces a disturbed and disturbing innocence after four years of an unconsummated marriage. Hoping to plead for mitigation on the grounds of partial mental infirmity, Rienzi enlists the help of bachelor Peter London, a successful London specialist in criminal psychopathology. The courtroom trial itself is skillfully and plausibly handled by the author and evidences knowledge of both English and Continental law as well as a lively interest in the topical problem of the ticklish relationship between legal responsibility and mental health. The family drama is a bit too pat -- the characters rather typed -- and the denouement definitely sags; nevertheless, this is fast-moving entertainment and promises resounding sales with Broadway and motion picture production to follow.