A trial lawyer gets in over his head with a dangerous criminal in this debut thriller.
Roger Schloss is a trial lawyer, though he may have to become a murderer. For the last 15 years, his successful Columbus, Ohio, practice has represented plaintiffs in civil suits, but after a major professional setback, the success-hungry attorney agrees to represent a man accused of arson in a criminal trial. It turns out his client, the Cleveland-area restaurateur Albert Krieger, has a history of burning down his establishments for insurance money, and he’s adamant that Roger make the case go away quickly. Krieger is just the sort of client that Roger has long tried to avoid, but he finds that the obviously guilty defendant grows on him as the trial goes on. As Krieger becomes satisfied with the lawyer’s representation, he offers to help Roger out of his looming bankruptcy by running his little arson scheme on the attorney’s house. Roger isn’t quite sure what to do. He needs the money, but Krieger is clearly a treacherous man: “Having survived the divorce, there were two things of which Roger was sure. What he was most afraid of was going to jail, but right next to that fear was the prospect of being broke.” Before long, Roger is confronted with an even bigger problem, involving murder. Kerger’s prose is straightforward and meticulous, mirroring the thought processes of his buttoned-down protagonist: “With the barrel of the pistol stuck in his mouth, as he had read about in books, he certainly could not miss. He would undoubtedly be dead. But then Krieger would have won and that was not right. The Kriegers of the world should not be allowed to win their games.” Krieger is a compelling and well-drawn villain, and Roger is completely believable as a calculating lawyer. Unfortunately, there is little to redeem Roger—a money-obsessed philanderer—in the eyes of readers, and he is therefore difficult to root for. The novel is brief but its pacing is slow, and the outcome ends up being fairly easy to predict.
An intriguing but thin legal tale about temptation and greed.