Lukewarm legal thriller centering on a courtroom battle for the patent to an AIDS vaccine.
Goldstein (Law/Stanford Univ.; Errors and Omissions, 2006, etc.) opens with a by the numbers scene in which Leonard Seeley, medical officer at a West Coast biotech company, entreats his brother Michael, a lawyer, to spearhead a case involving the patent for an AIDS vaccine. Leonard’s small company, Vaxtek, is suing St. Gall, a big Swiss drug producer, for infringement upon the drug’s patent. Michael’s idealism, the entreaties of a brother with whom he’s had a tense relationship and the gloom of a Buffalo winter convince Michael to take the David v. Goliath case. He’s off to San Francisco (where, it seems, most legal thrillers also go) and the case turns out to be more complicated than it first seems. The notebook kept by the Vaxtek scientist who invented the vaccine is suspect and the scientist may also have been romantically involved with a woman from St. Gall. But most disturbing is the death of the lawyer who preceded Seeley on the case. The man allegedly fell in front of a train, but Seeley—and the man’s widow—suspect he was murdered. Did he know too much about the case? For the ensuing trial, the centerpiece of the narrative, Goldstein brings on a large slate of characters, most of them clichéd and one-dimensional: Well-dressed and buff describes the gay lawyer, too many drinks signal an errant sister-in-law and “slender and precise” bespeak a Swiss executive. Seeley keeps investigating the background to the case while he pursues it in court. In a clever twist on legal proceedings that musters some suspense, Goldstein has Seeley, who eventually learns he was duped on several key matters, make points in court he hopes judge and jury won’t buy.
The author knows well the dynamics of the courtroom and of patent law, but his style lacks color, freshness and texture.