A forensic psychologist must decide if a confessed murderer can be brought to trial.
His brilliance undiminished, perhaps even enhanced, by Asperger syndrome, Ben Long is at the top of his field when he suddenly packs it all in. Goodbye Asheville district attorney’s office; hello academe and a welcome new challenge. Over the next four years, Ben discovers how much he enjoys teaching—until his good friend and former colleague, Asheville DA Sidney Kingsley, pleads for Ben’s help on a high-profile headache of a case. Earl Torrence, 26, has murdered Amber Coolidge, his older brother’s fiancee, Kingsley tells Ben. The evidence is just about incontrovertible, and Torrence has signed a confession. Still, a clever attorney could dazzle a jury with Torrence, who “looks like he was born to play Lenny in Of Mice and Men.” The issue, of course, is competency in a capital case, and Kingsley needs Ben to prove that Torrence has sufficient mental capacity to stand trial. At first, Ben resists. He’s out and wants to stay out for reasons Kingsley knows full well. But then Kingsley plays the “clever attorney card,” attaching it to a man Ben despises, and the Paula Paige card, named for the charming law clerk who’d be assigned to Ben for the duration. They’re both game-changers.
Helms (Thunder Moon, 2011, etc.), himself a retired forensic psychologist, delivers authenticity, a refreshingly offbeat protagonist, a neatly crafted puzzle and even a quirky little love story: a lot to like.