Sunday, March 25, 2007

THE SUSPECT: John Lescroart's Blend of Crime and Counsel

The steady sequence of crime fiction by Californian John Lescroart has featured most prominently the characters Dismas Hardy and Abe Glitsky. Hardy thinks through the courtroom strategy; Glitsky pushes the officers in pursuit. It's a nice blend of police procedural and legal thriller and thus a successful series, somehow a bit less well known than it should be. Polished, smoothly written, well plotted, these are books to enjoy repeatedly.

Lescroart moved off-series with THE HUNT CLUB, building a stand-alone centered on Wyatt Hunt and his development as a private investigator (keying eventualy into the Dismas/Hardy community) -- and the risk paid off, boosting sales and readership. Fresh territory and a fresh vigor, I think. This year's book, THE SUSPECT, uses a similar approach: Gina Roake, a secondary character from the original series, a 57-year-old attorney, has taken a lot of time off to cope with the death of her fiancé, the well-liked series character David Freeman, who had become the "wise mentor" of Lescroart's books. Now wealthy in her own right, and one of the named principals in the legal firm of Freeman, Farrell, Hardy & Roake, she can glide for as long as she needs to.

But as the book opens, Gina is shaking off the depression and related lethargy, in a move that in many another tale would take place near the end, giving "hope for good changes ahead." Here, the character shift presages the ferocious determination she'll apply to a case where it seems clear she's defending a guilty man -- the "suspect" of the title.

And this is where Lescroart shines: His attorneys don't turn into super snoops themselves, but their drive toward justice and toward fairly representing their clients forces them to demand harder, smarter, riskier work from the PIs and detectives around them. In Roake's case, that includes Wyatt Hunt, for instance. And since she's actually defending her first murder case, her legal partners become essential factors in whether she can unravel the truth in time to save her client's liberty -- and life. Here's a sample of Gina arguing the start of the case with legal partners Wes Farrell and Dismas Hardy:

She paused for a moment, took a small breath. "I guess at this point my gut wants to believe he didn't do it."
Farrell looked over to Hardy. "Told you."
"And," Gina went on, "now you're going to tell me how stupid and dangerous that is. Which I'm aware of. So." She addressed both her partners. "What am I supposed to do, then? Not defend him?"
"No," Wes said. "Not believe him."

I have two ad hoc scoring measures that I apply to a book like this: how many people I will recommend it to, and how soon (if ever) I want to re-read it. On both, THE SUSPECT ranks highly. In fact, I've already enjoyed it twice. Skillfully managed in its Bay Area setting, intelligently plotted with a twist of medical research and related law, and packed with intelligent people scrambling for insight, it's definitely a keeper.

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