James Scott Bell, author of such notable page-turners as No Legal Grounds and
Presumed Guilty, has produced what is probably his best work yet. Scanning the dust jacket’s cover, I read what appeared to be an excerpt, intent on getting a feel for the book. The excerpt turned out to the first chapter, and by the time I got to the end of it, I was hooked.
Bell certainly knows how to pull his readers in, and he does it with a pared-down style. It’s almost Hemingway-esque, except that Bell gives us all the information we need in as few as sentences as possible and at the same time propels the story along at such a rate that one simply cannot put the book down. The plot is exceptional, so self-contained and pitch-perfect that it’s hard to go into too many details without giving away some of the secrets and spoiling things for would-be readers. And secrets there are, for if you attempt to guess the outcome (and you will want to), you’ll definitely be fooled. This is the mark of a true craftsman — one who has thought out all the possibilities and decided what you’ll be trying to guess, and then decided to do the opposite.
The plot in a nutshell is this: Attorney Ty Buchanan is in the midst of a case that will undoubtedly make his name in the annals of lawyer-land when his fiancee is killed in a supposedly freak accident. The way the book opens, with the accident, is spectacular in not only writing style but plot device as well. Before we get to that particular accident, we’re told that a twenty-eight-year-old man has just killed himself on an overpass by sticking a gun in his mouth and pulling the trigger. When his body falls over the railing, it lands on attorney Buchanan’s fiancee’s car. This is the tie-in.
At first this seems like a coincidence - that is until a raggedy man approaches the grieving Buchanan at the funeral and offers an accurate account of what happened for a price. The result is a quest for the truth that makes even the best John Grisham novel pale by comparison. What follows might sound like a CSI script or something from a nightmare B-movie, were it not for the deft writing and excellent pacing Bell delivers.
Bell, who knows the legal landscape like the back of his hand — for good reason, as he was a trial lawyer in the same vein as Grisham — has evidently found his calling. He is one of the best suspense writers I’ve yet to come across. The situation, confrontations, and placations are all not only plausible but so well thought-out that the reader will find himself wishing he’d come up with the ideas. At one point, even the seemingly impervious Buchanan comes under suspicion when it is determined that his fiancée was in fact murdered. With a combination of wit, movement, in-depth research and set-ups that are totally believable, he’s given us a great book that’s fun from dust jacket to bio blurb. There are no sex scenes in this book, and cursing is a definite no-no, so Bell will surely get the nod from those who disapprove of such things. Kudos to him for achieving a wonderful story without them.