Reign in Hell
William Diehl
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Get *Reign in Hell* delivered to your door! Reign in Hell
William Diehl
Ballantine Books
437 pages
November 1997
rated 3 of 5 possible stars

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William Diehl brings back Chicago lawyer Martin Vail, point-man from Show of Evil and Primal Fear. Primal Fear was made into a fairly successful movie starring Richard Gere, and it looks like Diehl is trying to score another screenplay deal with Reign in Hell. The plot, however, may prove too complicated, and the cast of significant characters too sprawling, for a strict book-to-screen conversion. That's not to say that the story isn't interesting, for this novel touches on pertinent issues -- militia groups, the conservative far right, and the U.S. government's apparent inability to use its collective common sense in dealing with such groups.

Curled Up With a Good BookOnce a hotshot defense attorney, Martin Vail has made a national name for himself as a hard-nosed state prosecutor. With the media's attention on him for his handling of a case against a trinity of large corporations, Vail catches the eye of the United States Attorney General and of the President himself. What the federal government wants from Vail is his startling prowess in putting together a successful RICO prosecution. The Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations act is what the government intends to use to bring down an hyper-conservative militia that officials believe is behind the hijacking of a shipment of U.S. military weapons. That impeccably planned highway robbery leaves several soldiers dead and the President justifiably angry. Vail's unswerving respect for the law of the land and a personal request from the President of the United States prove irresistible, and he agrees to pursue a RICO case against the right-wing group responsible -- the Sanctuary.

Leading the Sanctuary is a retired soldier named Engstrom, a contemporary of the war-hero President. Unlike the President, however, Engstrom served in deep black ops in the military, so his record is top secret, his contribution to U.S. military actions unheralded. Understandably embittered, Engstrom bears a personal grudge as well as his metaphorical banner of moral and religious rectitude. Engstrom genuinely believes that the coming millenium will usher in the Armageddon, and that his followers will rise up to wreak God's vengeance on the corrupt government. Engstrom's mouthpiece is the charismatic and mysterious Brother Transgressor, a shadowy charlatan with his own malign agenda.

Gathering around him his acclaimed Wild Bunch of aggressive young lawyers, Vail begins to build a case against the Sanctuary. The President has given Vail a mere eighteen months to bring Engstrom's group down, a scant year and a half to construct one of the most difficult legal cases to build. Engstrom's group responds to the pressure by escalating maneuvers and training, and that Vail will ultimately have far less than eighteen months to make a successful RICO case becomes quickly apparent. As the stakes grow ever higher, Vail's task becomes a deadly race against time, egos, and thoughtless betrayal. In trying to avoid another Waco or Ruby Ridge, the government leaders may well bring about the very disaster they most fear.

Reign in Hell reads much like a screenplay; the exposition and description are pared down nearly to spare stage-directions. The complex storyline is paced well for a sense of action, but the characters never flesh out beyond the second dimension. So little of Vail's backstory is given that those who haven't read at least one other Martin Vail novel will have difficulty developing real sympathy for the man, much less discovering anything beyond what his vague declarations reveal of his character. Reign in Hell delivers on intrigue, legal procedurals and political and governmental games. If you're not concerned with full characterization or meaningful character change, what it delivers should be enough.

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