One last wrinkle before Caroline Masters accepts the presidential nomination for an appeals-court judgeship: She's been called back to Resolve, New Hampshire--to the family she hasn't spoken to for 20 years--to help a niece who's been arrested for murder. The Resolve police have found Brett Allen wandering near her family's woods naked, drunk, stoned, incapable of giving a coherent statement. When she does talk, it's to direct them to the body of her lover, James Case, whose plan to take Brett to California on $4,000 he'd withheld from his drug connection was cut short by a knife Caroline wastes no time in tracing to her family. Visiting among ghosts she thought she'd never see again--her unloving father, Channing Masters, a retired prosecutor and judge; her half-sister Betty; Betty's husband Larry Allen, a spineless English professor; and Caroline's old onetime lover, Assistant Attorney General Jackson Watts--Caroline begins to counsel Brett and, inevitably, signs on as her attorney. As she probes Watts's star witness--Megan Race, the jealous lover who swore that James planned that California trip with her--for a weakness and contemplates breaking the law to impugn her testimony, a series of big, looping flashbacks reveals with increasingly ominous clarity why Caroline's always blamed herself for her mother's death; why she turned her back on her family so long ago; and, ultimately, who really killed James Case. Unfortunately, though, high-profile, high-stakes legal specialist Patterson dwells long enough and portentously enough on Caroline's sorry family history to give away his carefully planted surprises, strewn with all his customary generosity, to all but the most purblind readers. Patterson still spins mesmerizing courtroom scenes and creates a masterful narrative--the story purrs along like a velvet locomotive--but without that extra fillip of suspense that made Degree of Guilt (1993) and Eyes of a Child (1995) extraordinary.