A comic cautionary tale for young lawyers everywhere: Whatever it takes, don't agree to defend an alleged hate killer. James F. Whitlow (so the US Attorney claims) arrived at his army-base home to find Elvin Brawley, the African-American artist Whitlow's enlisted wife had hired to give sign-language lessons to the couple's deaf son, giving Mary Whitlow another kind of instruction. Inflamed not only by jealousy but by hatred of blacks and the deaf, Whitlow shot the interloper and now faces a murder charge, with only his court-appointed lawyer, neophyte Joe Watson--a research and writing factotum at the swanky St. Louis firm of Stem, Pale & Covin who hasn't set foot in a courtroom since he was sworn in--standing between him and lethal injection. But Watson's inexperience is the least of his problems. His mentor at Stem, Pale wants him to drop this unlovely, nonpaying case forthwith and is prepared to find a reason to boot him out of the firm if he doesn't. The presiding judge, Whittaker J. Stang, is a demented cackler; the federal prosecutors have reams of evidence linking Whitlow to the Eagle Warriors, a violent, crazy group of white supremacists; and Whitlow's best hope--bewitching forensic neuropsychologist Rachel Palmquist, a.k.a. Aphrodite, MD--is clearly ravenous to batten on him as a fascinating case study. Worse, she's also got designs on Watson (revealed in the most perverse seduction scene of the year) that could complete the hat trick by depriving him of wife and family along with job. It's all too much for this courtroom Candide, especially when it becomes clear that both his client and his client's wife, the all-important witness for the prosecution, are telling a bunch of whoppers. Dooling (White Man's Grave, 1994, etc.) has such a gorgeously rampaging take on brain chemistry, hate-crime law, and the grounds for contempt of court that you may find yourself, like Joe Watson, losing sight of the brilliantly overinflated conflict at the heart of this postmodern fable.