Jan 24, 12
Read in January, 2012
I’m not a criminal attorney, so this may not be right. What are the three essentials for a murder case? Are they motive, means, and opportunity? Theoretically, one doesn’t even need definitive physical evidence to point to a defendant’s guilt provided these three factors are demonstrated convincingly enough. In A Plague of Secrets, my latest foray into the San Francisco world of erstwhile cop and assistant D.A. turned defense attorney Dismas Hardy and erstwhile social worker turned private investigator Wyatt Hunt, John Lescroart ties the three factors to the defendant in a masterful way. Yet, while the physical evidence is inconclusive, the unfolding investigation and trial leaves the reader uncertain as to whether to root for Hardy getting a dismissal on the basis of the prosecution’s shoddy case or on grounds of actual innocence. Indeed, one isn’t sure, at points, whether to root for Hardy to win or lose this case. And one certainly isn’t expecting some of Lescroart’s cast of supporting characters to die—much less in the way that they buy it in this novel.
In many of Lescroart’s novels, I’ve been relatively sure of the perpetrator from early on in the book, as well as of the client’s innocence. In A Plague of Secrets, I had neither assurance. I was in suspense as to what was going to be revealed next throughout the entire novel. When I did discover the answer (and not a moment before the author wanted me to do so), I found that the subtle psychological clues had been in front of me throughout the story, but it was still unexpected to me when I read it. I jumped at two “red herrings” early in the book, but still wasn’t ready for the resolution. That’s all I can say about why I rated this “5 stars” without giving too much away.
I can talk about the bare beans plot, however (pun intended). The story centers on an independent coffee shop at the corner of Haight & Ashbury in San Francisco. (What? One of the head shops went out of business?) This particular coffee shop (shock of all shocks) had a manager dealing weed to the tune of about ten grand per month (dollars, not ounces). When the manager is murdered in the alley behind the shop, it looks like blackmail and money-laundering are the biggest factors. Indeed, blackmail is a powerful and important motive in the case.
But merely telling the story isn’t enough for Lescroart. As always, the reformer within the author has led him to consider abuse of power, questionable prosecutorial practices, the case (very balanced, actually) for and against the legalization of marijuana, (indirectly) the war on drugs as practiced by the federal government, procedural carelessness and obstinance, as well as unethical and irresponsible media malfeasance. As usual, Hardy’s cross-examinations offer ample chances for Lescroart to stick pins in the voodoo dolls of “expert” witnesses. If I wasn’t lecturing today, I would have finished this novel in the wee hours of morning. As it was, I couldn’t wait to get on my commuter train in order to finish it on the way to my office, this morning. My experiences with this author just keep getting better and better.