Bernhardt (Justice Returns, 2017, etc.), known for his long-running Washington, D.C.–set Ben Kincaid courtroom-drama series, returns with a new attorney in a different city.
Lawyer Daniel Pike has always done things his own way, and that’s made him one of the top criminal defense attorneys in St. Petersburg, Florida. But when Daniel’s violent client, Emilio Lòpez, whom he’d just saved from conviction, gets involved in a deadly shootout, the lawyer’s white-collar firm fires him. This leaves the arrogant attorney adrift, but then he meets an attractive woman named Maria Morales in a bar, who invites him to a mysterious meeting. At that gathering, the shadowy “Mr. K” asks Daniel to join the Last-Chance Law Firm. His new associates include strategist Maria, researcher Garrett Wainwright, and facilitator Jimmy Armstrong. Daniel’s first case involves arranging the adoption of Esperanza Coto, a 9-year-old orphan who’s about to be deported to El Salvador. But this is complicated by the fact that Esperanza’s guardian, Gabriella Valdéz, has been charged with murder in the aforementioned shootout. As Daniel investigates the case, he learns that the woman is enmeshed in a much larger conspiracy. He’s going to need to solve this puzzle quickly to save Gabriella and Esperanza from grim fates. This novel is, first and foremost, about Daniel’s moral evolution. In the beginning, the self-centered attorney has no qualms about representing a “walking waste product” like Emilio; he even turns away a woman seeking help for her abused sister (”Too messy. Not profitable”). But as he takes up the cause of Esperanza and Gabriella, he comes to realize that the downtrodden have more urgent need of his services. Also, Bernhardt shows how Daniel was previously a lone wolf who felt that he didn’t have to answer to anyone, but, thanks to his Last-Chance Law Firm partners, he comes to appreciate the value of teamwork. Overall, the author’s narrative maintains a fast pace as Daniel discovers possible suspects, before it reveals the unlikely killer.
A brisk tale with a surprisingly sympathetic protagonist who should be able to sustain another winning series.