In this dense and thoughtful novel, Harrison creates a flawed character in crisis. While Peter Scattergood’s marriage is crumbling - his wife, Janice, moving out and resisting communication - Philadelphia ADA Scattergood is handed a career-making case. The newly-elected mayor’s nephew has been found murdered, with Peter picked to represent the DA’s office in a swift resolution of a high-profile case.
Wrapping up a murder trial of the killer of a young woman brutally slain, Peter’s attention span is hampered by distress over his marital woes. Increasingly obsessed with Janice’s whereabouts, Peter splits his time between the new investigation and his endeavors to heal his marriage.
As a busy ADA, Scattergood devotes considerable time to the cases he handles, fighting for justice - if not for the victims, then for the families of the victims who suffer the loss of loved ones: “The process of becoming a lawyer was narrowing and honing him.” Flying generally under the radar, when the career-maker is thrown his way, Scattergood is a little concerned about the political ramifications of his assignment.
The mayor’s nephew was shot to death by his assailant, and it is imperative to move quickly on such a case to avoid scandal and shore up public trust. Arriving on the scene, Peter notices a few troubling discrepancies, but his marital issues interfere with his ability to assess the imperfections in the police report. When a second killing is revealed, Scattergood cannot help but question the ease with which the suspect is captured and charged.
Peter’s profound distraction is the focus of the novel, a protagonist dedicated to his work but unraveling with each passing day since his wife left their home. It doesn’t help that she is proactively avoiding contact since she decided to file for divorce. Looking back over the years of missed opportunities, Scattergood determines that he can win Janice’s affections, at least for one more try together. In his need, Peter makes a tragic mistake opening the door to an affair that symbolizes the indiscretion that has brought about his current marital dilemma.
The emotional landscape he travels is increasingly rocky for Peter. Scrambling for purchase, he comes face to face with the reality of his case, the political agenda of his office and the difficult decisions that separate a man of integrity from a man of ambition. Set on a career path, ensconced in what he thought was a happy marriage, an astonished Scattergood finds himself at the beginning, questioning every decision he has made and the price of success.
This is a classic case of life’s unpredictability and the impossibility of controlling circumstances. In Harrison’s thoughtful novel, Scattergood is brought to the edge, barely escaping the demons that reside in his jealous heart, facing the most painful choices he will ever know. But life goes on, as will Peter, much chastened by his experiences.