In Her Defense: A Novel

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A lawyer with an appetite for risk. A gorgeous socialite accused of murder. It's the case of a lifetime—if only she were innocent.

Following in the blockbuster tradition of Scott Turow and Richard North Patterson comes Stephen Horn and In Her Defense, and intense, riveting debut thriller with a twist.

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 Washington firm. ...

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A lawyer with an appetite for risk. A gorgeous socialite accused of murder. It's the case of a lifetime—if only she were innocent.

Following in the blockbuster tradition of Scott Turow and Richard North Patterson comes Stephen Horn and In Her Defense, and intense, riveting debut thriller with a twist.

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 Washington firm. Now he combs the cell blocks for clients and wonders if he's sunk too low ever to come back. His ex-wife wants to see less of him, his therapist wants to see more, and his last link to professional survival just gave him an ultimatum.

Then into his office walks Ashley Bronson. 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. She hands him her case, followed by her confession and some damning physical evidence. Frank thinks his biggest challenge is her guilt. He's got a lot to learn.

Ashley's admission proves just another detail in a defense in which ethics are bent and morals compromised. As the trial date looms closer, the goverment's case seems insurmountable. A desperate Frank hits upon an inspired strategy—and unwittingly becomes a threat to people in high places when he unravels a tangled web of events that began a generation ago.

Their personal lives in tatters and confronted by forces they don't understand, besieged lawyer and client have only each other as the courtroom battle begins.

In this fast-paced legal thriller, former federal prosecutor Stephen Horn brings his knowledge of law and government to stunning life with this absorbing tale of love, betrayal, and murder that is sure to be one of the most entertaining and engrossing stories of the year.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

The legal thriller, a once thriving subgenre that has suffered a slight downturn in recent years, appears to be undergoing a modest resurgence. Over the past several months, a number of talented newcomers -- practicing attorneys who can actually write -- have entered the field, among them Sheldon Siegel, who started off the new year with his sparkling legal melodrama, Special Circumstances, and, most recently, Stephen Horn, who makes a notable debut with In Her Defense, a stylish, convoluted account of blackmail, murder, and governmental conspiracy.

The narrator/hero of In Her Defense is Frank O'Connell, a once prominent Washington attorney who has fallen on hard times. A few years before the narrative begins, Frank appeared to have everything: a thriving marriage, a full partnership in his father-in-law's prestigious law firm, and virtually unlimited prospects. Responding to a combination of influences -- such as his innate love of risk and his growing sense that life had become too predictable, too comfortable -- he walked out on his affluent partnership and set up shop on his own, sacrificing his home and his marriage in the process.

Three years after walking out, Frank has a therapist, a one-bedroom apartment, a borrowed office, and a subsistence-level practice as a court-appointed public defender. Then, without warning, a lucrative, high-profile murder case falls into his lap.

Ashley Bronson, a beautiful and wealthy Washington socialite, has been accused of murdering Raymond Garvey, a former secretary of commerce who made a handsome living as a deal-maker, facilitator, and power broker. Impressed by Frank's demeanor during a glancing encounter in a D.C. holding cell, Ashley impulsively hires him to manage her defense and then delivers the worst possible news: she is, in fact, guilty as charged. Convinced that Garvey had provoked her father -- a scientist and patron of the arts named Henry Bronson -- into committing suicide, Ashley confronted Garvey in his Georgetown residence and shot him to death.

In Her Defense recounts Frank's dogged attempts to obscure the facts in order to introduce the necessary element of "reasonable doubt." When his best efforts -- which include attacking the validity of the physical evidence and impugning the credibility of the state's leading witness -- prove insufficient, Frank alters his strategy and begins to scrutinize the hostile relationship between the murder victim, Raymond Garvey, and the suicide of Henry Bronson.

The resulting investigation has unexpected consequences and involves the interconnected machinations of an aristocratic Virginian named Sherman Burroughs, a sinister corporation called Octagon, and a deceased Soviet defector named Kovalev. The various threads lead backward in time to the early days of the cold war, the clandestine world of atomic research, and a misguided act of idealism whose aftereffects can still be felt nearly half a century later. The subsequent discovery of the FBI's covert -- and highly illegal -- involvement in these matters provides Frank with a last-ditch opportunity to influence the course of the trial, and to introduce a startling new interpretation of the events leading up to Raymond Garvey's death.

Not every aspect of In Her Defense works equally well. Horn's conspiracy-driven plot occasionally strains the novel's credibility, and the obligatory romance that develops between Frank and his client is considerably less interesting than the legal drama that surrounds it. For the most part, the book works. The first-person narrative is crisp and clean, the dialogue smart and edgy, the legal maneuverings compelling, and the courtroom sequences (particularly the extended cross-examination of a supposed eyewitness) authoritative and dramatic.

But the real strength of In Her Defense lies in Horn's thoughtful, empathetic presentation of Frank O'Connell as an intelligent, vulnerable, fiercely competitive figure who has somehow lost his way. The Ashley Bronson trial provides Frank with both a vehicle for his professional rehabilitation and a lifeline that leads him, slowly and with much difficulty, toward an act of reconciliation that is credible and affecting. Stephen Horn may not be the next Scott Turow, but he is a gifted storyteller and an acute observer of men and women under pressure. He has written a lively, likeable courtroom thriller that is consistently entertaining and cumulatively involving. I look forward to encountering his work again.

--Bill Sheehan

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."
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.
New York Post
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

  • ISBN-13: 9780060194406
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/1/2000
  • Pages: 376
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.21 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen Horn was born in the Bronx, New York, and received an engineering degree from Rutgers University. He commanded an infantry company of the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam. As a prosecutor in the justice Department's Civil Rights Division, he tried criminal cases and participated in some of the department's most famous investigations, including the killing of four Kent State students by the Ohio National Guard and the assassination of Dr. martin Luther King Jr. Now in the private practice of law, he lives outside Washington, D.C., with his wife and two children. In Her Defense is his first novel.

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Read an Excerpt

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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Interviews & Essays

In Her Defense brings to mind the works of John Grisham, Scott Turrow, and Jonathan Harr's A Civil Action, all of which have captivated the reading public. What is it about the legal thriller that makes it a such compelling genre?
The legal thriller is the opportunity to raise all kinds of matters -- crime, politics, social justice, even those of the heart, and do justice in a satisfying, plausible way. In the end of the book you know you will find out the truth, whereas in the real world, in the news, even in famous trials, you are often denied that resolution. And let me add that since the ancient Greeks the public has loved and hated its lawyers. It's fun to see them triumph or get their just desserts.

You start with a guy at the bottom, personally and professionally --he's getting divorced, living in a small sad apartment, representing two-bit drug offenders who can't afford a lawyer. And he gets the proverbial case of a life time -- a rich, beautiful client, accused of murder. Except there's a hitch, she confesses that she did it. Why that setup, why make her guilty?
After I left the Justice Department, I spent a lot of time in the cellblocks, representing poor clients who usually did it. People always asked, 'How can you defend someone who's guilty?' I rarely found their guilt so black and white, there was always something, some shade of gray, to build the case on. Trial lawyers are competitive people who like to win, and often that means a guilty person goes free, which can create a lot of angst. It's interesting to see how far a lawyer will go when he's motivated, and Frank O'Connell is very motivated. Aside from the usual reasons, he's fallen in love with his client. Let me also say that I always found guilty clients more interesting.

You were a prosecutor in the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department in the 1970s. Without giving too much away, how much of what you did there made it into this book?
I worked on some of the Justice Department's most controversial matters. My first assignment was the shootings of Kent State students by Ohio National Guardsmen. My second was to investigate conspiracy theories in the assassination of Martin Luther King. Essentially, our job involved investigating and prosecuting people in power who trampled the rights of ordinary citizens. I don't want to give too much away, but the case that made it into the book concerned the time we investigated ourselves, and when it was over, I was testifying before a Senate Committee, and the President had to issue pardons.

This is your first novel; was this something that was brewing for a long time?
No. I began it as an entertainment for myself, a change of pace from writing briefs and legal memos. And it was fun. With fiction there are no rules, no page limits, no client. You aren't constrained by a set of facts, only your own imagination. My wife liked the story, so I decided to try and have it published.

Did that take a lot of plotting?
No. The story arose naturally. I had an opening line and a closing line and a central twist based on my experience at the Justice Department. I would write a bit, think about it, write some more and then put it away. It was something to do when I had spare time.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 14 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 2, 2003

    Wonderful Book

    I'm not sure why I bought this book, but I loved it from the first page. The author writes a great legal thriller, yet manages to mix in a personal touch. I would like to see the same characters in future books.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 2, 2001


    It was my lucky day when I found this book in a senior center library. I was out of reading material and thought MAYBE this would be good enough to hold my attention. I started it last evening and finished it before dinner tonight. I had to put the world on hold while I read it. Hooray for a new author! Hooray for a wonderful storyteller! Keep them coming, Mr. Horn!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 1, 2001

    one of the best books of fiction i have read

    i really enjoyed reading this book. i have read hundreds of books and this is one ot the best i have read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2000

    Loved the Book

    Stephen Horn did an excellent job writing this book. I felt like I knew the characters personally and I was on Frank's team from the very beginning. I've recommended this book to many people and anyone who took my advice and read it thoroughly enjoyed it as much as I did. Thank you Stephen.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2000

    Great Debut for First Time Writer

    Fast paced, humerous with a twist to keep you enthralled to the end. An other view of Washington politics and government

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2000

    Compares with John Grisham

    I loved this book! It was slow at first but once you got started it was hard to put down. The characters were very realistic and the plot was well developed. I look forward to reading more books by this new author!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2000


    You are sucked in from the first page. Frank O'Connedll is exactly the kind of lawyer you'd want to be...and exactly the kind you'd want defending you if you were in serious trouble. Frank O'Connell is Travis McGee with a law degree.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2000

    Excellent, Excellent, Excellent

    John Grisham and others better stand aside and allow the new master of the legal triller to take the Throne. From the beginning to the end the reader is pulled into the story and is not released until completing the last page. Having a very short list of favorite fiction authors, Steve Horn is now at the top of the list.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2000


    What a great first book by author Stephen Horn. This book has suspense, excitement, surprise twists, and well developed characters. I enjoyed the Irish overtones. I especially enjoyed how the author didn't spell everything out for the reader but let them discover it making the book an enjoyable read. I will be looking for more from this new author with obvious promise.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2000


    Ashley Bronson is a socialite accused of murdering former cabinet official Raymon Garvey. Frank O'Connell is the lawyer she has chosen to defend her. The case begins with her confession and spins out of control with each new discovery. Frank realizes the case is not so cut and dry, and many people in high places are involved. I wanted to like this book but I couldn't. There were too many characters, too much going on and not enough to hold my interest on the main plot.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    fabulous legal thriller

    In Washington DC, no one in the legal profession or the judicial system quite understands why attorney Frank O¿Connell has thrown away the silver spoon to become, ugh, a public defender. However, ethics aside, Frank wonders if he is heading to the pits of legal hell when he suddenly becomes the lawyer to renowned socialite Ashley Bronson, who admits she killed former Commerce Secretary Raymond Garvey. <P>Ashley blames Raymond for driving her father to suicide. Frank and private investigator Walter Feinberg make inquiries seeking a link between Garvey and Ashley¿s father. The duo also looks to see if someone else could have potentially killed the cabinet member in order to throw doubt in the minds of the jury. However, the more Walter and Frank dig, the more questions surface as the CIA becomes involved. <P>IN HER DEFENSE is a fabulous legal thriller that will place Stephen Horn near the top of the sub-genre list with his debut novel. Frank is a complex character struggling between personal ethics and the seeming failure of his career change. The support cast augments the tale with intelligence as they provide insight into the judicial system or into Frank¿s personal life and that adds depth and motives to the lead protagonist¿s personality. The story line is sharp whether the subplot augments the legal side or Frank¿s personal life. Fans of legal thrillers will toot the author¿s horn for this wonderful novel. <P>Harriet Klausner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2000

    In Her Defense: A Novel

    'In Her Defense' is one of the sharpest books I've read in a long time. Stephen Horn is a very creative writer. He beautifully executes intrigue, humor, romance, life lessons, challenge. The surprise twists to the plot had me laughing out loud. I stayed up all night reading, couldn't put it down. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2000

    In Her Defense: A Novel

    I just stayed up all night devouring 'In Her Defense'. The book pulled me along like a train out of control. The storyline builds up steam and charges along with a pace that is fun and exhilarating. It is a wonderful story filled with surprises. I laughed, I cried, I held my breath...all on the same page!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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