IMPACT by Stephen Greenleaf


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Greenleaf takes time out from his series about lawyer-p.i. John Marshall Tanner (State's Evidence, Fatal Obsession, Beyond Blame) for an absorbing, if overlong, court-room drama involving a fatal airline crash. The novel is actually two novels. The first chronicles the not-so-secret passions of small-town (Altoona, CA) lawyer Ketch Tollison: his longtime, on-again/off-again love Brenda Farnsworth; his recent romantic interest, Laura Donahue; and Laura's husband Jack, who's carrying on with Brenda's sister Carol When a plane carrying Jack and Carol (along with a hundred other passengers) back from L.A. crashes on its way into the San Francisco airport, Carol is killed, Jack sent into a coma, and Keith and Laura thrown together in an uncomfortable new relationship--attorney and client--even though Keith wants his old college friend, renowned aviation litigant Alec Hawthorne, who's handling Brenda's case, to handle Laura's too. When Alec wins a fat pretrial settlement for Brenda, her jealousy of Laura is Free to blossom into hatred, and Ketch finds himself defying his old lover to represent a man be despises on behalf of another lover who doesn't want him anymore. The story is cluttered, unconvincing, and full of deplorably nonselective detail (mostly about legal procedure) and subplots (about Carol's retarded son Spiller and Alec's Neoplatonic relationship with his dogsbody Martha Crenshaw) that don't go anywhere. But when KetCh finally gets into the courtroom, he finds his bearings, and so does Greenleaf--in the second novel, a muckraking expos‚ of the airline industry's indifference to passengers' safely. This tale is swift, scathing in its implications, and so much more arresting than the soap opera in the wings that you'll cheer when Keith wins his case, though you'll remain utterly indifferent to its effects on his private life. Readers who can hang in until the beginning of the trial are in for an account of legal headaches that will make them glad they're not lawyers--and for a rousing, if overly self-serious, indictment of the airlines that will make them apprehensive about their next flight.

Pub Date: Sept. 21st, 1989
Publisher: Morrow