Best Defense [NOOK Book]

Overview

It's a case of office politics turned to murder. Or is it?

Acclaimed, award-winning journalist Ellis Cose delivers this provocative and timely courtroom drama in which the passions of ambition, envy, and outrage intertwine, and the best defense isn't always the truth.

Cutthroat defense lawyer and rising media star Felicia Fontaine has her work cut out for her. She's agreed to defend John Wisocki, a Manhattan businessman accused of killing his ...

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Best Defense

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Overview

It's a case of office politics turned to murder. Or is it?

Acclaimed, award-winning journalist Ellis Cose delivers this provocative and timely courtroom drama in which the passions of ambition, envy, and outrage intertwine, and the best defense isn't always the truth.

Cutthroat defense lawyer and rising media star Felicia Fontaine has her work cut out for her. She's agreed to defend John Wisocki, a Manhattan businessman accused of killing his office rival, a Hispanic man, over a question of affirmative action policies at work. With her reputation on the line, not to mention her usually unflappable confidence, Felicia will need to watch her every step if she is to get through this controversial case with her career and pride intact.

Unfortunately, her opponent in court is a former flame, now-married prosecutor Mario Santiago. Mario is an underdog assistant district attorney with more than one reason to want to triumph over his ex, Felicia, in the highly publicized trail.

As the legal showdown begins, Felicia and Mario are determined to keep their personal lives on the sidelines and face off in the fireworks trial that will explore the difference between justice and revenge.

Ellis Cose is the distinguished author of a number of powerful, thought-provoking books on American society. He now turns his, pen to fiction for an outstanding debut novel that probes the fascinating, and sometimes violent, depths of the workplace battle to succeed.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Having written several well-received nonfiction books on American race relations and the workplace (among them Color-Blind and The Rage of a Privileged Class), journalist Cose puts a human face on the subject of affirmative action in this observant, witty but sometimes too cerebral fiction debut, a provocative legal thriller. Fifty-four-year-old computer nerd John Wisocki has been downsized from his position at the computer conglomerate Infotect. Distraught, slightly drunk and already something of a bumbler, Wisocki attempts to commit suicide but ends up shooting and killing Francisco Garcia, the Latino man who is to replace him. By the time the press gets hold of the story, the accident is dubbed New York's first "affirmative action murder." As the case becomes a referendum on that policy, battle lines are quickly drawn between those who see Wisocki as a "raging bigot" and others who view him as a "hapless victim." Cose elaborates upon the premise by introducing a romance between Wisocki's defense attorney, African American, Harvard-educated Felicia Fontaine, and Puerto Rican assistant DA Mario Santiago, former lovers who still have eyes for each other. A Harlem demagogue, the Rev. Lester Hawkins, is also falling for Felicia as personal and political interests clash. Cose's dialogue is sometimes stiff, and his plotting skills are similarly standard-issue. He relies almost entirely on topical complexities to give his novel pizzazz: the alleged bigot is married to an Asian woman, upper-class Fontaine mentors a ghetto girl; Mario's wife has a Spanish name but is really Latvian-Filipina. On the other hand, Cose demonstrates a first-rate knowledge of the law and how the New York legal system works. He has produced an intelligent novel on a timely theme, but some may wish that he had not played it quite so safe and had illuminated more complex issues of race relations. One hopes to encounter Felicia and Mario in another book, where Cose might be a bit more daring. Agent, Michael Congdon; editor, Carolyn Marion. (Sept.)
Library Journal
In his first novel, Newsweek editor Cose uses a fictional New York City courtroom and characters as a mouthpiece to convey the inadequacies of affirmative action and discuss other racial issues he wrote about more effectively in Color-Blind: Seeing Beyond Race in a Race-Obsessed World (LJ 12/96). Felicia Fontaine, an outstanding and beautiful black lawyer, faces prosecuting attorney Mario Santiago in a high-profile case involving a white defendant accused of killing his Latino office colleague. John Wisocki's alleged motive stems from his loss of his senior-level job to a man who was less experienced but a member of a minority group. Although well written, the novel does not stand out as a truly original work--the plot is too familiar and the characters lack depth. Still, courtroom drama fans may be impressed with all the legal jargon and banter. Mildly recommended for large collections seeking legal dramas. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/98.]--Shirley Gibson Coleman, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI
Kirkus Reviews
Veteran Newsweek editor Cose turns from his distinguished nonfictional studies (Color-Blind: Seeing Beyond Race in a Race-Obsessed World, 1997, etc.) to an issues-oriented legal suspenser, with provokingly inconclusive results. Nobody denies that accountant John Wisocki, fired from his job at Computertronics when the company was swallowed up by Infotect, took a gun one Sunday evening to the office of Francisco Garc¡a, the junior colleague who'd been kept on instead of him, and shot Garc¡a moments after he arrived. But was the shooting deliberate and premeditated, fueled by hatred and backlash against affirmative action, as Wisocki seemed to indicate in a note he composed on Garc¡a's own word processor: "I know that some people have suffered unjustly. But America never persecuted Colombians"? Or was the death an accidental interruption of the suicide Wisocki had planned without having any idea that Garc¡a would come in that night? Even before the trial begins, Wisocki's attorney, rising black star Felicia Fontaine, scurries to make the defense's case in the press, running at every turn into the counterthrusts of her ex-lover, senior trial counsel Mario Santiago. Because Felicia is Cose's heroine, he spends lots of time showing the unlikely bedfellows she courts, or who court her(Wisocki's estranged wife, a loudly approving right-wing radio show host, a lecherous minister, a bevy of TV talking heads), in an attempt to put Wisocki in the best possible light. The real novelty of his presentation, though, isn't the expected ringing debate about affirmative action (which duly appears, but only with a secondary emphasis), but the evenhanded back-and-forth between Felicia and Mario,both by turns worried about their witnesses, depressed about holes in the evidence, and utterly confidentþusually at the end of the same day's testimonyþof victory. The result is that rarity, an unpredictable courtroom drama in which disputed facts take a backseat to the issues they raise, and whose leading questions are still hanging when you turn the final page.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061960604
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 7/28/2009
  • Sold by: HARPERCOLLINS
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 148,969
  • File size: 415 KB

Meet the Author

Ellis Cose

Ellis Cose is the author of several books, including the bestselling The Rage of a Privileged Class. A former contributing editor for Newsweek magazine, his writing has appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, Time magazine, USA Today, the Washington Post, and the New York Daily News, among other publications.

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Read an Excerpt

006017496X, 006093087X
Best Defense

ing over Felicia. "You are soooo slow, girl. Just rip the blessed paperoff."
Felicia finally got the magazine out, and gasped as her eyes took in thecover. The portrait was nothing short of stunning: an image so much moreglamorous than the stylishly conservative thirty-nine-year-old professionalwho generally resided in her mirror. This woman was a vision from a fashionphotographer's fantasy, with dark caramel skin, long jet-black hair, a whitesilk blouse, and a playful smile that stopped just short of a sneer, withlips slightly parted, as if to whisper "I dare you."
Geneva shook her head in wonder, causing her neatly braided hair extensionsto flick against her face. "Damn, you look hot," she said. "Isthis really you?"
Felicia grinned, staring at the cover line. felicia fontaine: lawyer ofthe year. The words were practically as large as the Manhattan Woman logo.In slightly smaller type, the magazine proclaimed her "The most innovativeand unpredictable defense attorney since William Branegan."
"Interesting company they put you in," said Geneva. "Branegan,as I recall, was something of a nut."
"He wasn't a nut," said Felicia. "He was just, well, different.The polite word, I suppose, is eccentric. But he was also probably the bestlawyer I ever knew. His defense of Darnell Guilliam was absolutely brilliant.Maybe one other lawyer in the city could have gotten Guilliam off."
"Who."
"Me, of course," she said, beaming. "But even I wouldn'thave had the nerve to do what Branegan did. I mean, when you have a dope-dealingconvicted felon for a client and he's executed two plainclothes detectives,it takes real chutzpah to puthim on the stand to testify that he thoughtthe cops were hit men out to assassinate him."
"That's right. I remember now. He did do that."
"Yep. By the time Branegan was done, he had the jury convinced thecops were contract killers working for some Colombian drug lord."
"Were they?"
"Who knows? I doubt it, but anything's possible. Still, his closingargument was so good, he nearly had me convinced that Guilliam had performeda public service. If I had been on that jury, even I might have let himoff . . . And I was a prosecutor at the time."
Felicia sighed, her expression suddenly serious. "You know, I misstalking to him. We didn't agree on much of anything, certainly not on politics.And his style was way too flamboyant, even for me, but we had somethingof the same attitude—a sort of subversive approach to jurisprudence. Healso had the best sense of humor of just about anybody I've ever known.But then his clients were so wretched—terrorists, religious fanatics, dementedkillers—that he probably needed to keep laughing just to get him throughthe day."
"So this is the man whose shoes you're going to fill?"
"Be serious. Branegan was one of a kind. Plus, he lived for the law.I have other priorities."
"Like paying for this big-ass place."
"That's one of them."
"Well, girlfriend, congratulations. You are definitely on your way.But don't let this stardom stuff go to your head. Just like they can buildyou up, they can take you down. And believe me, they can do it in the timeit takes to blink. Anyway, got to run. Got a hot date."
"Really?" asked Felicia, feigning astonishment.
"Yeah, with my two sons. Think we're going out for pizza. Talk to youtomorrow."

After Geneva left, Felicia opened the magazine to the beginning of the profile.The photo inside was almost as striking as the cover shot. Wearing a lavenderblouse and a dark blue power suit, she was holding her glasses in her lefthand, looking both scholarly and seductive. "Felicia Fontaine: Nobody'svictim," read the caption. The spread went on for ten full pages, hittingevery highlight of her career. There was criticism to be sure. "A showboat,all flash and no substance," one unidentified "former colleague"called her. But the barbs were few, and they were more than balanced withthe sort of lavish praise normally reserved for eulogies.
She tossed the magazine to the center of the cocktail table, letting loosea chuckle of delight. Manhattan Woman might not be the big-time, but itwas more than respectable. "Yep. You're doing all right for yourself,girl," she said, savoring the satiny sound of her voice.
What would Branegan make of her modest fame? she wondered. At the very least,he would find it amusing. And he would probably warn her—just as Genevahad—not to take it terribly seriously. "Find a suitably modest wayto declare your superiority, but never make the mistake of believing you'reas good as you claim," Branegan had once advised with a wink. The suggestionwas not particularly original, but it certainly summed up his own approachto life, and she had tried to follow it as best she could.
She had never been quite sure what had drawn Branegan to her. At first shehad assumed it was sexual attraction, but he had made it clear, in myriadsubtle ways, that he had no interest in sleeping with her. "I'm a sixty-six-year-oldman with a young wife at home. She's all I can handle," he had joked.Perhaps he merely admired her audacity, she had concluded, which mirrored—albeitfaintly—his own. By the time she and Branegan had become devoted, if somewhatwary, chums she had been practicing law for nearly a decade. She had alreadymastered the art of making a powerful impression, having realized that image,especially for those in the public arena, is a source of power; that perception,in the realm of human affairs, is invariably more important than reality.Her first high-profile case, the prosecution of Geoff Jay, had driven thatlesson deep into her bones.
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