The Whisper Heard Round the World
The Letter of the Law opens with the murder of a cybersex addict, a killing whose significance only becomes apparent near the end of this intriguing tale of perverted morality and the law. The story then segues to the site of another killing, signaling the beginning of the main action of the novel. Here, readers are introduced to police Detective Bob Bolinger, who, despite his 27 years on the force, has never seen quite so grisly a tableau -- the victim, law student Marcia Sales, has been eviscerated, her internal organs strewn over the floor of her apartment.
Searching for suspects, Bolinger briefly focuses on Donald Sales, the girl's father, who, in his grief, went berserk at the crime scene. Bolinger's finely honed instincts soon lead him, however, to law professor Eric Lipton, with whom Marcia was romantically involved. Upon learning he is the chief suspect, Lipton, famous for "The Letter of the Law," a treatise and course on how to manipulate the legal system, flees, only to be captured by the police in short order.
In the manner of the O. J. Simpson trial, the case attracts national attention, becoming more of a media circus with each passing day. Dismissing his first attorney, the arrogant and eccentric Lipton hires one of his brightest students, up-and-coming attorney Casey Jordan, to defend him. Eager to make a lasting mark in the legal community, the ambitious Jordan accepts the case. Using all the weapons in her considerable arsenal, she proceeds to secure a verdict of not guilty, attacking Bolinger professionally and Donald Sales personally, even going so far as to suggest that Sales may have had an incestuous relationship with his daughter.
The jury verdict is only the beginning of the action, however, as, seconds before it is announced, Lipton whispers something to Casey that turns her world upside down. His revelation triggers a bizarre sequence of events that ultimately leads Casey to form an alliance with her former adversaries, Bolinger and Donald Sales. Together, the unlikely trio stalk the killer, even as he stalks them.
Upon hearing of the basic elements of The Letter of the Law -- appalling violence, a genius criminal, an ambitious professional battling seemingly insurmountable odds, a relentless veteran cop searching for the truth -- veteran readers might conclude that the book is riddled with clichés, the type of thing we've all become familiar with through the works of John Grisham, Patricia Cornwell, and Scott Turow. While that's true to an extent, it would be unfair to brand the book that way. Green shows great assurance for a young novelist, putting his characters through paces that even some of those authors might shy away from. For instance, he's not afraid to show the dark sides of his characters, at the same time examining the dire consequences of taking the law into one's own hands. Green also makes some telling points about the cost of ambition, exposing the rationalizations professionals are often forced to make if they are to advance in their chosen careers. Besides being interesting, Green's characters are also human, capable of abrupt about-faces and unexpected actions.
Tense, taut, and packed with telling insights about our legal system, The Letter of the Law combines solid writing and a well-developed ability to surprise readers, resulting in a memorable, fast-paced work of fiction, a perfect fix for all you legal thriller junkies out there.
Hank Wagner is a book reviewer for Cemetery Dance magazine and The Overlook Connection.