Upright Ben Kincaid, that paragon of lawyerly virtue, teeters on the edge of the ethical divide in this latest of his long-running series (Silent Justice, 2000, etc.).
In fact, by the final fadeout, some former admirers may construe him as having well and truly leaped across to the murky land of Fast-and-Loose. To begin with, he's messing around with a female client—one half his age yet—a defendant in a bizarre murder case. A much admired cop, Sergeant Joe McNaughton, has been found dead, horribly brutalized, his naked body chained to the base of a fountain in one of Tulsa's downtown plazas. As a result, nubile Keri Dalcanton, 19, suddenly has a lot going against her. Motive? Sergeant Joe was her lover, the prosecution is delighted to point out, until he dumped her in favor of a return to hearth and home—hence the word "faithless" smeared in blood across his chest. Evidence? Her apartment is a forensic cornucopia, awash in enough exhibits to convince the most reluctant cops (if there were any such animals) that they've nailed their perp. The legal high-fliers rev their engines, the trial plays itself out, and a verdict is returned that, in Ben's view, represents an egregious miscarriage of justice. What he does about it is surreptitious, conceivably meretricious, and certainly not to be revealed in venues like this one that still maintain a healthy respect for institutional ethics. Fans waiting in vain for the moment when the story takes off for the higher realms of drama or insight, or at least plausibility, can console themselves with the pleasure of debating whether scrupulous, by-the-Blackstone Ben has gone vigilante.
Light on realism, littered with clichéd types, and clumsy dialogue, Murder One comes to fitful life only during the courtroom scenes. Not even Ben's foray into do-it-yourself justice rings true.