CRUEL JUSTICE by William Bernhardt

CRUEL JUSTICE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

How can hopeless-cause Tulsa lawyer Ben Kincaid top his defense of a white supremacist accused of murder (Perfect Justice, 1994)? By defending a retarded black man of a murder that he allegedly committed ten years ago. Back in those days, Leeman Hayes was the caddy--Utica Greens Country Club's gesture to affirmative action--found on the scene (his own caddyshack) when the police discovered the beaten, impaled body of Maria Alvarez. Judged incompetent to assist in his own defense, Leemah has been languishing in institutions for a decade, until a convenient expert pronounces his inability to string together a spoken sentence no barrier to his trial, and the hounds are at the hunt. It's a typical case for poverty-row Kincaid, who's opposed by his sanctimonious old mentor Jack Bullock (""You need a lesson in the difference between right and wrong"") in a courtroom presided over by lazy, incompetent Judge ""Hang 'em High"" Hawkins. Looks like there's no hope for Leeman--unless Carlee Crane, a onetime cleaner at Utica Greens, can recover the eyewitness memories of the killing she's repressed, unless she can bring herself to testify, unless Bullock's sneaky attempts to discredit her are derailed, unless Kincaid can extort a confession from the real killer. Meanwhile, Kincaid's former brother-in-law Lt. Mike Morelli is on a hunt of his own for a murderous pedophile who's gotten interested in ten-year-old Abie Rutherford--and who gets even more interested after Abie becomes the only possible witness who could identify him. Bernhardt skillfully uses the child-molesting plot, and Kincaid's own consternation at having his decamped sister's baby dumped in his arms, to offset the longueurs of the ancient Alvarez case, and it's no surprise when the two cases finally grow together in a clever twist. The real mystery here, though, is how Kincaid, who wins every hot-button case he lands, can persist as such a sincere, blustering tyro in the courtroom. He must be the luckiest lawyer in fiction.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1996
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Ballantine