Coulter uses the adrenaline rush of the first chapters to keep her thriller moving, a savvy way to capture interest in a two-pronged tale of attempted murder and the continued terrorizing of the victim and his family. It begins in Washington, DC, when FBI Agent Dillon Savitch of the Criminal Apprehension Unit receives a cryptic note about events soon to follow. Soon after that, Judge Ramsay Hunt is shot outside his home in San Francisco.
A manhunt for the would-be assassin ensues while Ramsay, in critical condition, is rushed into surgery, barely surviving the bullet. The judge is currently presiding over a high-profile murder case of two spies, a married couple. A recess is ordered while charges of obstruction are investigated over the behavior of one attorney, a man who is now missing. The focus immediately turns to that case and the individual involved, while Savitch and his wife, Lacey Sherlock, also of the FBI’s CAU, rush to the side of their wounded friend in ICU.
The agents are joined by the SFPD and US Marshals as a multi-agency effort begins a thorough investigation of the shooting, Savitch’s note in Washington forgotten in the excitement. In charge of protecting Ramsay and his family, US Marshal Eve Barbieri coordinates with SAC Cheney Stone, but in Ramsay’s hospital room she begins a flirtation with Special Agent Harry Christoff, the two attracted to one another but resisting for the sake of professionalism. Nevertheless, along with Savitch and Sherlock, Christoff and Barbieri become key protagonists in a cat-and-mouse game with an elusive killer thought to be a Chinese spy working with the couple now on trial for murder in the exchange of secret information to a foreign government. Suspecting his existence and running this man to ground, however, are two different things.
Salting her thriller with family ties and anecdotal asides between law enforcement officials, Coulter is well-versed in the layers of such routines and the cross-agency cooperation required in the efforts to solve such a crime. The fact that the popular judge bears the nickname “Judge Dredd” both increases his visibility and his vulnerability, though the public actively supports the authorities’ efforts to hunt this killer down. Although there isn’t much romance between Savitch and Sherlock, Eve and Harry take over on that front, although their personal interactions aren’t necessary to sell the plot.
My main complaint about the novel is Coulter’s perspective on criminals and law enforcement agencies. Her good guys are really good, her bad guys irredeemable, stereotypical perspectives with little to modify this description, let alone any nuanced portrayals of individual characters. While the plotting is solid and moves at a good pace on its own merits, it is unnecessary for the author to cast her heroes and villains in stark black and white, unwilling to trust the reader to make these distinctions. A shame really, because the plot is filled with surprises, including a twist at the last minute when a safe resolution is almost in sight.