Pegasus Books, 2014, 512 pages
When Terry Flynt gets the chance to defend a millionaire accused of murder, he knows the case could make his career - but the accused man is Flynt's greatest enemy. Can he defend a man who ruined his life?
Terry Flynt is a struggling legal clerk desperately trying to get promoted when he is given the biggest opportunity of his career: to help defend a millionaire accused of murdering a woman in his hotel suite. The only problem is that the accused man, Vernon James, is not only someone he knows but someone he loathes. This case could potentially make Terry's career, but how can he defend a former friend who betrayed him?
With the trial date looming, Terry delves deeper into Vernon's life and is forced to confront secrets from their shared past that could have devastating consequences for them both. For years, he has wanted to witness Vernon's downfall, but with so much at stake, how can Terry be sure he is guilty? And what choices must he make to ensure that justice is done?
This was a surprisingly character-driven legal thriller that revolves around a rich dickbag being tried for a murder he (probably) didn't commit, his childhood best friend who hates his guts but winds up digging into the complicated conspiracy to "fit him up," as the Brits say, and lots of broken, damaged people (including the protagonist) trying to atone for past sins on seemingly quixotic quests for justice in the grimy, unjust modern world.
Vernon James is a rich financier who was once schoolmates with our hero, with the appropriately milquetoast English name Terry, at Cambridge. After Terry's chum accused him of something he didn't do, Terry's life went off the rails, while Vernon went on to become rich and successful and, just to rub salt in the wounds, married Terry's beautiful former girlfriend.
Years later, a dead blonde is found in the bed of Vernon James's hotel room. His implausible story is not helped by the fact that he keeps getting caught in lies by both the police and his own legal counsel. Terry, a paralegal at the firm his ex-friend hired to represent him, discovers more than he wanted to about his old buddy's sex life, and also gets mixed up with Quakers, South African death squads, Israeli hit men, and naturally, a fraught reunion with his old flame.
Surprisingly, all of these elements fit together nicely at the end, making for a complicated but (mostly) plausible conspiracy explaining everything from the dead blonde to the fit up, and in the process, why Vernon and Terry are both as fucked up as they are.
This is a British legal thriller, but the author knows his audience will consist of a lot of Americans, so the first-person narrator, despite being British, is constantly pointing out how "If we were in America..." and then explaining the differences between American and British courtroom procedures. The differences are mostly small so the general flow of the case, the explanation of defendants' rights, the courtroom drama, and the roles of the police and lawyers, will be more or less familiar to any American fan of legal shows or police procedurals. This isn't a dry courtroom novel, though — although quite a few chapters are spent in the courtroom, there are also car chases, murder attempts, sleuthing, and of course, sex. I ended up "knowing" all the characters, each of whom had their own motivations, no matter how petty, and while I have a bias against milquetoast Englishmen as protagonists, even Terry won me over by the end, proving himself to be, if not heroic, not completely spineless.
A very good book for fans of legal thrillers, with a non-American perspective.
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