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 Three years ago, Roberto Morales, self-made developer of Brooklyn's Phoenix Project, was convicted of manslaughter in the brutal sex killing of Mariah Dodge, his associate and lover. But the conviction was overturned on appeal, setting the stage for a new trial whose prosecutor will find himself hamstrung by problems in the old one. Ever alert to opportunities for ethnic politics, the D.A.'s office has assigned Joe Estrada to prosecute Morales, a hero of the Latino community. But Joe, whose father bragged about his titled Castillian ancestors and married into the D.A.R., worries that he'll be pilloried as a phony Latino long before the trial begins. Joe's got more urgent worries too: Disturbing gaps turn up in the original police investigation; witnesses who gave Morales a motive--Mariah's determination to break off their affair--and placed him at the scene start to waffle; Mariah's cryptic diary implicates her and a Houston mentor in skimming $25 million from the Phoenix Project. The diary turns into a lasting nightmare, since Mariah's father denies its existence, and the bits of it Joe pries out of Mariah's avenging-angel sister Tess are all censored by her mother. Even as Joe fears he won't be allowed to introduce the diary into evidence, he puts off turning it over to the defense until he can produce a missing witness, the diary's ``Johnny,'' who can corroborate the evidence of the diary and put Morales away for good. Months pass--and you'll feel the weight of every day--before Johnny's finally lured out of hiding to go head-to- head with Morales in a memorable climax. This may be the most grueling courtroom novel ever written. The investigation, the discovery, the trial--everything takes forever, yet the effect is singularly concentrated; the steady march of events develops an overwhelming force. For pyrotechnical range and open- mouthed surprise, though, Friedman (Reasonable Doubt, 1990, etc.) has nothing on Richard North Patterson's Degree of Guilt (below). (Literary Guild Dual Selection for January)

Pub Date: Nov. 30th, 1992
ISBN: 1-55611-330-7
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Donald Fine
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1992


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