Criminal lawyer Margolin (Heartstone) writes cleanly and convincingly about the ins and outs of the legal process at its grittiest; unfortunately, the low-key but consistently interesting case/trial events here lead up to final chapters packed with contrivance, unlikely revelations, and hackneyed melodrama. Margolin's hero is Portland, Oregon's youngish David Nash, a local superstar of criminal law who has lately become torn up over the ambivalent success of getting acquittals for the probably-guilty. So David is happy to take a case where the accused really seems to be innocent: lawyer Larry Stafford, who is accused of killing a policewoman who posed as a prostitute to trap ""Johns."" But though David neatly picks away at the prosecution witnesses, the case soon becomes fraught with conflicts: Stafford's wife (and alibi) Jennifer turns out to be the beloved mystery woman with whom David had a night of exquisite love some time back, giving him a motive to lose the case; and smarmy, secretive Larry himself becomes increasingly unsympathetic as the trial proceeds. So, when David discovers that Jennifer's alibi is a lie and when the prosecution (represented by David's ex-wife Monica) comes up with a surprise witness to blacken Larry's image, David just caves in: Larry is convicted, David has a guilt-ridden breakdown. Then, however, begins the artificial, coincidence-heavy wrapup: a former client of David's turns out to be the real killer--a total sociopath who confesses to David, taunts him, tests his ethics, and forces him into a final shootout/showdown. Implausible plot, decent (if somewhat sentimental) characterization and backgrounds--a small-scale, passable courtroom-drama diversion, but only for readers who won't be too angry when the nonsense factor takes over.