Thomas & Mercer, 2015, 271 pages
Seven years ago, Winston Melton was on top of the world: a privileged kid fresh off his first semester at Princeton. Life was perfect - until he was accused of the rape and murder of an ex-girlfriend. Years after his conviction, another death-row inmate has come forward with an 11th-hour confession, casting Win's conviction in a new light. But with the ink drying on his death sentence, time is running short.
Win's grandmother, the family matriarch, has her eyes set on one of the Help Innocent Prisoners Project's defense lawyers: Dani Trumball, and her reputation for results, no matter the cost. Dani, concerned she is being bought, initially refuses but eventually takes the case.
Soon, Dani can sense that something's off, both with Win's conviction and the new confession. But seven years after the incident, is there still a chance of uncovering the truth?
This is the third book in a series, but it could just as easily be the first, since all the characters are fairly cardboard and the premise is spelled out in the beginning.
Dani Trumball is a former DA who works for an organization called the Help Innocent Prisoners Project. They represent clients on death row. Dani spends a lot of time insisting that she can only defend someone who she really believes is innocent, so that we understand that Dani is a good lawyer, not one of those unscrupulous shysters who'd work hard to get someone who might be guilty off... which is actually the ethical obligation of any defense attorney.
The Help Innocent Prisoners Project is approached by the matriarch of an obscenely rich family. Her grandson was convicted of the rape and murder of his ex-girlfriend seven years ago, and is about to be executed. Dani is reluctant to take the case, since their organization usually represents those too poor to hire their own lawyers, and it's not clear why the Meltons would want her help. But they offer to make a large donation, and an even larger one if Dani gets Win Melton off of death row, so Dani, despite misgivings, takes the kid's case.
This is an interesting premise, the crusading attorney compelled by the offer of badly-needed funds to defend an entitled one-percenter. Will she compromise her principles, what if her client is actually guilty, why do the Meltons need a pro bono 501C organization when they have $1000-an-hour lawyers at their beck and call?
Unfortunately, I got the impression that the author wanted to suggest moral ambiguity but was unwilling to actually make the reader confront it. Inasmuch as there might be any mystery as to whether Win actually did the deed, it's dispelled early on as the author writes in an annoying omniscient multiple-POV fashion that puts us inside everyone's heads. The serial-killer rapist who claims he is actually the culprit is a cardboard sociopath, but even in making clear what a bad, bad man he is and how disgusted Dani is by him, the author fears readers might not be sure where their sympathies should or shouldn't be directed if she doesn't point us there.
Dani is naturally suspicious that a convicted rapist-murderer who's also about to be executed conveniently confesses to another crime. They do some checking to see if Dani's grandmother paid him or his family to take the fall, but don't turn up anything. The first half of the book is the legal maneuvering which leads to an unsurprising result, although at several points there were some items that stretched my suspension of disbelief, with my limited understanding of the law.
Then, of course, Dani finds out that the Meltons did meddle with witnesses, and she has to find out the Truth. The rest of the book is a plodding investigation to uncover the real killer.
While the plot was interesting enough and I was hooked by the premise, I really wasn't impressed either by the execution or by the author's writing, which is a textbook example of telling rather than showing. We're told what characters think, we're told what they do, we're told what they did, we're told what they feel, and all of this telling substitutes for actual characterization. Likewise, there isn't much tension in any of the revelations because everything is telegraphed. I thought the story was okay but the writing was rather amateurish and reminded me more of a debut novel than the third book in a series. 5/10
My complete list of book reviews.