PRIMAL FEAR by William Diehl


Email this review


 Though Diehl never breaks new thriller-ground, he generally does a fine job of hoeing others' rows--from the cop-novel Sharky's Machine (1978) through the mob novel Hooligans (1984) and the Nazi- conspiracy novel 27 (1990). Here, in his strongest yarn in years, Diehl jumps on the legal-thriller bandwagon, with a nod to psychothrillers as well. Martin Vail is Chicago's hottest attorney, a prickly Wunderkind who's just won a $7.6 million lawsuit filed by a mobster against the county, city, and state. Area powerbrokers take vengeance by sticking Vail with the pro bono defense of angelic- looking Aaron Stampler, 19, found holding a bloody knife near the room where Chicago's ``saint'' of a bishop has been sliced into chopped meat. The case against Aaron looks airtight, especially with Vail's nemesis, high-powered Jane Venable (``She was just like Vail--no prisoners'') prosecuting. With his trusty team of assistants--Naomi, the beautiful black paralegal; the Judge, retired, who gives Vail bench-advice; boxer-turned-law-student Tommy Goodman--Vail works furiously on a defense, checking Aaron's background by sending Goodman to the boy's Kentucky hometown (where Goodman sleeps with Aaron's high-school teacher and learns that she'd slept often with Aaron). The first plot bombshell goes off when Goodman digs up a videotape of the bishop romping naked with four kids, including Aaron. The second goes off when the psychiatrist hired by Vail (who beds her) to question Aaron learns to her peril that Aaron suffers from a shocking mental disorder. And so the story goes, tick-tocking along, with clever, challenging courtroom scenes filling it out until the verdict arrives--and, with it, one last bombshell. A big, efficient thriller-machine--slick and melodramatic-- with every cog whirring at top speed but with little Çlan vital. It'll make a great movie, though. (Film rights to Paramount)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-679-40211-X
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Villard
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1992


FictionEUREKA by William Diehl
by William Diehl
FictionREIGN IN HELL by William Diehl
by William Diehl
FictionSHOW OF EVIL by William Diehl
by William Diehl


IndieJUSTICE DOWN by Ian Greenham
by Ian Greenham
IndieTHE ALIBI WITNESS by Dylan Patrick Grant
by Dylan Patrick Grant
IndieSchizo: Hidden in Plain Sight by Ilene B. Benator
by Ilene B. Benator