In Her Defense

In Her Defense

4.5 14
by Stephen Horn

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Frank O'Connell's need to live on the edge cost him his family, his home, and a partnership in his father-in-law's prestigious D.C. firm. Then Ashley Bronson walks into his life. The murder of a former cabinet official has just propelled her from the society column to the front page, and, inexplicably, she wants Frank to defend her. Frank thinks his biggest

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Frank O'Connell's need to live on the edge cost him his family, his home, and a partnership in his father-in-law's prestigious D.C. firm. Then Ashley Bronson walks into his life. The murder of a former cabinet official has just propelled her from the society column to the front page, and, inexplicably, she wants Frank to defend her. Frank thinks his biggest challenge is defending a client against the prosecution's overwhelming evidence. He's got a lot to learn. Subsumed in a defense in which ethics are bent and morals compromised, a desperate Frank hits upon an inspired strategy — and unwittingly becomes a dangerous threat to people in high places — a threat that must be stopped no matter what the cost. Confronted by forces they don't understand, besieged lawyer and client have only each other as the courtroom battle begins....

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble Guide to New Fiction
A lawyer with an appetite for risk and a gorgeous, "raving beauty" of a socialite accused of murder mix it up in this courtroom thriller. In a case where the only difference between guilt and innocence is the shadow of a doubt, how far will he go? "Packed with surprises and intrigue that keep you hooked until the last page."
New York Post
The Thriller of the Summer.
An engaging first-person narrator, witty, hard-boiled writing and a twisted little tornado of a plot.
Clive Cussler
A solid, winning debut.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
To say that the defendant in this crisp, intriguing debut is guilty is to give nothing away--she admits it herself early on, which makes for a very original take in a court procedural. And while the novel follows the usual format (lawyer on the rocks gets big case that could put him on top), perhaps it's that opening gambit that makes everything feel fresh and original. Attorney Frank O'Connell has given up the perfect life--wife, child, a prestigious job at his father-in-law's Washington law firm--to be a public defender. His previous good fortune, he believes, was handed to him on a silver platter, and he wants to earn his laurels the hard way. But just as he's wondering if he made the right decision, he stumbles on a case that might restore him to professional eminence. Socialite Ashley Bronson is accused of murdering Washington bigwig Raymond Garvey, and freely admits that she did it, blaming Garvey for her father's suicide. Hunting down connections between Garvey and Bronson, and attempting to raise reasonable doubt by finding other people who might have wanted Garvey dead, O'Connell and investigator Walter Feinberg begin to see signs of a conspiracy; to start with, the only person who witnessed Ashley leave the scene of the crime is a CIA agent. The first-person narration is sharp and intelligent, and Horn delivers on both the pretrial back-and-forth and the courtroom scenes, especially the cross-examination of the CIA witness. There are the expected lawyer/client romantic complications, but O'Connell also maintains strong ties with his ex-wife and his six-year-old son. Horn is a master of the small and telling twist, whether he is charting O'Connell's love life or the fate of his client. Eschewing glitter for solid, intelligent storytelling, Horn's impressive first effort is eminently satisfying. Agent, Peter Lampack. 100,000 printing; $150,000 ad/promo; Literary Guild/Doubleday Book Club selection. (May) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Why would successful attorney Frank O'Connell give up his partnership in a prestigious Washington, DC, firm along with a good marriage and a child he loves? As Frank sits in his small, rented office waiting for the next court-appointed case to come his way, he is hard pressed to answer these questions. Enter beautiful socialite Ashley Bronson, accused of murdering a former cabinet member. After a chance jailhouse encounter, she chooses Frank as her advocate. With these elements, first-time novelist Horn sets the stage for a legal thriller that easily keeps pace with the works of Scott Turow and John Grisham. His competent, quick-witted style compels the reader to follow Frank on a classic hero's journey through a minefield of international espionage, unscrupulous media tactics, and romantic complications. The man who eventually emerges has not only advanced his career but has reached a higher level of self-knowledge. An amazing debut; recommended for all public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/00.]--Nancy McNicol, Hagaman Memorial Lib., East Haven, CT Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
School Library Journal
YA-Frank O'Connell, a burned-out former partner in a prestigious law firm, now takes jobs as a court-appointed lawyer. The future seems dark until Ashley Bronson, a well-known artist and socialite who is accused of killing a former U.S. Secretary of Commerce, hands him her case-complete with a confession of guilt and physical evidence. Determined to save his client, O'Connell ignores the obvious facts and begins to dig through conflicting information. Using old friends and contacts, the protagonist finds plausible information that could blow the case wide open, exposing old secrets and important people. This exciting page-turner is well written, the characters are believable, and the action flows. Horn uses his knowledge of law and government to create a story of murder, betrayal, and love that will entrance teen readers of mysteries or thrillers.-Linda A. Vretos, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, VA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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4.18(w) x 6.75(h) x 1.04(d)

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Chapter One

I was thinking about destiny when Harry Gregg appeared in the doorway. It could have been a coincidence.

"Excuse me, I'm looking for an honest lawyer."

"Have you looked in Baltimore?"

"You'll do." Harry eased into the chair, set down his coffee, and laced his fingers across his vest. He was taking his usual moment to survey my desk when his gaze fell on the front page of the Post. "Been reading about the Ashley Bronson thing?" he asked. "Some story, huh? "

"You sound like that news anchor I heard this morning: 'Stay tuned for more on the Ashley Bronson case.'"


"So, when Kennedy was killed, they didn't call it the 'Lee Harvey Oswald case."'

He blinked. "If I may paraphrase a former senator," he said, grinning, "Raymond Garvey was no Jack Kennedy."

"He was a former Secretary of Commerce, a leader of trade delegations, and served on a dozen boards. The man's not even cold and he's a footnote in the story of his own murder."

Harry snorted, then leaned over and stabbed the Post with his forefinger. "He didn't look like that," he said, "and she's better known."

I looked at the photograph. He had a point: nobody looked like that, even in handcuffs. She'd been the darling of the Post's "Style" section for years: parties, travels, romances real and rumored. A lot of people dreamed about her life, or just being part of it. But no one dreamed about the Secretary of Commerce.

"She's got the perfect name, too," I conceded. "A marquee name for a real-life melodrama. Do you think there could be a link between your name and your destiny?"

He shrugged."I suppose."

"Think about it, Harry. Jonas Salk couldn't throw a spiral and there's no Johnny Unitas vaccine." He stared at me, creases forming across his forehead. "You don't know who Johnny Unitas was, do you?"

He spied the puck that doubled as a coaster. "A hockey player?"

"Never mind. What's up?" It was too early in the week for his big brother act, usually featured on Friday afternoons when he ambled into my office, propped his loafers on my government surplus desk, and launched into his continuing seminar on life, liberty, and the pursuit of wealth. After my wife left me for American Express I endured those sessions as penance, but eventually came to think of them as just part of the rent.

"Frank," he said, "you're not making any money."

"I've got the Giants next weekend plus three."

He laughed. "The partners here care about you, fella. Three years ago we leased you this office and threw in the facilities and our best wishes. The rent was modest. It wasn't an economic proposition for us, just an opportunity to help a deserving guy get ... get going."

"I appreciate that, Harry."

"We know you do." He set down his mug, taking a moment to align the handle with the edge of the desk. "Here's how we see it. The people here like you and respect your skills. From time to time, we've had occasion to send you some business and we've been glad to do it."

I didn't like the tense of his verbs.

"The firm is growing," he continued. "We need an experienced litigator to back up Marty and you've demonstrated the skills we're looking for. Besides,"-he winked-"you're already here. We can save the headhunter's fee." We smiled at each other and he became earnest. "The fit makes sense, Frank. All things considered, we can't offer you a partnership right now. We're thinking of an 'of counsel' position for a couple of years and then we'll all take stock."

"Of counsel, then take stock," I repeated.

"Right. Look, I know Marty's got a way about him but we think it can work." He picked up his mug again and peered at me over the rim.

Marty did indeed have a way about him: the way of the asshole. A few years ago I might've mentioned it, but I was maturing-that or just getting nervous about how I'd end up. "I'm flattered, Harry," I said, "and I'm grateful for everything. But I'm going to have to think about it to be sure it's the right fit-for all concerned." A mature response: I would weigh this option against the others-as soon as I figured out what they might be.

Harry took off his glasses and began to clean them with the end of his tie. "Frank, a couple of things," he said deliberately. "We need to do something soon. And to be completely candid,"-he examined his lenses-"some of the partners have grown a bit uncomfortable with your clients passing through the offices."

Two months before, after a series of thefts, the office manager called security when she saw a suspicious character in a black leather jacket, green pants, and sneakers pass by her desk. I was strolling in from lunch when I heard the confrontation in progress. One voice, something like the sound of squealing brakes, warned, "Don't touch me, motherfucker! I am here to see my lawyer!" Figuring he had trapped his prey, the security guard asked him who his lawyer was. The suspect surveyed the landscape over the guard's shoulder and shouted, "Him!" his long finger bisecting my chest. The crowd turned on me. "Save the conference room," I quipped, "we'll use my office." No one laughed. Harry himself had taken to shadowing my clients in the hallways.

I was still groping for a response to the warning when my secretary appeared. "The clerk's office called," she announced. "You've got a case." My bread and butter: a court appointment...

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