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.
Read an Excerpt
While he knew the Internet opened a doorway to the world, Walt Tanner had no idea that it would also allow evil to slip in through the back . . . The raw night was typical of the Texas panhandle in late fall. Swirling leaves and grit chafed the curbside. Tanner, a tall, almost handsome salesman in a powder blue suit, sniffed at the smell of the coming weather and wiped a protective tear from his eye. His hotel, a Ramada Inn, was run-down and seedy, but there was a comforting familiarity in the lobby's musty smell. He'd been making calls on a plastics manufacturer in Stratford for the past seven years, and after a marketing dinner at Calvin's Steak House, this was where he always spent the night.
But tonight wasn't going to be the same as every other. The false promises of the plastics man still ringing in his ears didn't make his stomach churn the way they normally did. Tonight he had a date with destiny. For weeks, he had courted over the Internet, hurrying back to his hotel rooms throughout the Southwest to get on-line and link up. After a time, he was able to convince her to send him a picture, and what a picture it was. There were flaws, yes. At the age of fifty-three, Tanner no longer expected perfection. But she was fine, much younger than he was, and she had a nasty way of talking about sex that thrilled him beyond description.
And now, finally, tonight was the night. It had all been so simple, so beautifully simple. It started with posting a picture of himself along with a description that included his height, weight, education, and occupation on a singles bulletin board on theWeb. His few friends had scorned his notion of finding love on the Internet. But he hadn't found it any other way, and now this . . .
His only reservation was with her mysterious idiosyncrasies. She wanted to meet him late at night in a rural location. She didn't want dinner or a movie, or even casual conversation. She wanted sex, raw and hard, or so she said. It stirred him. He had to admit that. But at the same time, something didn't seem quite right about it. It rang false, her insisting that he get a ground-floor room at the end of the building near the exit. He wouldn't have minded as much if his room at the Ramada didn't face a set of Dumpsters that needed emptying. It was as if she were embarrassed about something. But his latent libido had cast caution aside. What did it matter, really? In the worst case, she would turn out to be a man with hopes of committing an illegal act of fellatio, and he would send her, or him, on his pitiful way. But if the whole thing were for real? It would be the beginning of something special.
Tanner unlocked his room and settled in to wait. There was a six-pack of Coors mixed with some melted ice waiting in the sink. With a cold, wet can in hand, he propped himself up against the bedstead with some pillows, picked up the remote, and began channel surfing. Normally he would get on-line, but he felt funny about that with her coming, like he was cheating on her or something.
In the end, it wouldn't have mattered. Tanner awoke to the snow of an empty channel and three empty Silver Bullets on the night table. He loosened his tie and slouched down into the bed. Before drifting off to an even deeper sleep, he thought fleetingly of the unlocked sliding glass door. The effort to get up and lock it, however, would leave him wide-awake, and he wanted nothing more than for the brutally disappointing night to be over, so he shut down his mind and turned on his side.
He still lay there that way, with his mouth open wide, faintly snoring, when the glass door slid open quietly at three-thirty in the morning. A tall, hooded figure in black peered around the edge of the curtain and looked from Tanner to the hissing television, then back to Tanner. With gloves on his hands and dark wool socks stretched over the outside of his shoes, the man silently crossed the room.
He stood beside Tanner's bed, looking him over carefully, making sure that he, too, hadn't lied about his physical description. He was about six feet five, sadly out of shape, but his frame was large and square-shouldered all the same. His hair, dyed a rusty brown, was drastically thin, but that wouldn't matter, either. From the waist of his pants, the man in black extracted an automatic pistol made unusually long by its silencer.
He could have killed Tanner without his ever knowing what happened, but that wouldn't be cruel. It was nothing personal against the salesman, but a greater need to show his lethal power, the way a gun trader would show off an exotic weapon. Moving close in order to look him in the eye, the killer jammed the pistol's barrel roughly to the roof of Tanner's mouth. Tanner's eyes shot open, alive with shock, but only for a moment. The heavy metal clank of the gun's action erupted, and feathers from the pillow shot up into the air like the small flurry inside a snow globe. A crimson stain quickly appeared on the white pillow beneath Tanner's head and spread rapidly to the sheets.
The killer unfolded an enormous nylon duffel bag from his pack and folded Tanner's long frame in the bedding so that he could roll it inside. Before zipping the bag, the killer took Tanner's laptop from his briefcase and tossed it in beside the body. With both hands, the dark figure dragged Tanner's lifeless form out through the sliding door and into the night.