The Barnes & Noble Review
Add David Ellis's Line of Vision, a first novel by a practicing attorney that is devious, surprising, and compulsively readable, to the list of recent first-rate legal thrillers written by lawyers -- Stephen Horn's In Her Defense comes to mind, as does Sheldon Siegel's exceptional Special Circumstances.
Line of Vision takes place in the fictional midwestern town of Highland Woods. Its narrator and hero, Marty Kalish, is a slightly misanthropic investment banker who has recently begun a clandestine affair with wealthy socialite Rachel Reinardt, wife of a prominent local surgeon. According to Rachel, Dr. Reinardt is a wife-beater, a man given to drunken rages and periodic outbursts of physical and sexual abuse. On a cold November night, Marty -- who has more than his share of voyeuristic impulses -- stands outside the Reinardt house and witnesses a particularly savage beating. Driven past endurance, Marty forcibly intervenes. His intervention sets the stage for
everything that follows.
Withholding crucial information until the very end, Marty's narrative jumps ahead to the aftermath of that nocturnal encounter. Marty recounts his elaborate attempts to provide himself with a plausible alibi, but only alludes to the central events of the evening: Dr. Reinardt's death and Marty's efforts to remove -- and hide -- his body. By the following morning, the incident has become a local cause celebre. Rachel provides investigating officers with a deliberately vague description of a masked intruder, and Marty resumes his normal routine, desperately hoping to avoid police scrutiny. He doesn't. Eventually, rumors, circumstantial details, and a
self-incriminating statement lead to Marty's arrest, and he finds himself on trial for his life.
The trial itself is a complex, brilliantly rendered affair in which Ellis -- and Marty -- slowly peel back later after layer of deceit, gradually
illuminating Line of Vision's central mystery: What really happened at the Reinardt home on that fateful November night? En route to his series of climactic revelations, Ellis displays an uncommon facility for devious plotting, courtroom pyrotechnics, and narrative misdirection. He also displays a genuine feeling for character, and his central portrait of the conflicted, psychologically damaged Mary Kalish dominates the novel and accounts for much of its surprising emotional depth. Line of Vision falls
slightly short of the standard set by its primary model, Scott Turow's Presumed Innocent, but it's a solid, consistently entertaining debut, a harbinger (I hope) of even better things to come.
Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. His book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub, At the Foot of the Story Tree, has been published by Subterranean Press (www.subterraneanpress.com).
The best suspense novel I've read in a while...surprising.
The best suspense novel I've read in a while...surprising.
San Francisco Chronicle
After just about every permutation of the legal thriller has been served up by the likes of John Grisham and Scott Turow, Ellis arrives with a surprisingly fresh take on the genre.... The resulting novel crackles with unexpected twists and some nifty surprises -- it's like Patricia Highsmith with an extra shot of adrenaline.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Despite elements that strain belief, Chicago attorney Ellis's debut succeeds as a wicked courtroom thriller featuring a devious main character who finds ways to manipulate the legal system to suit his needs. Investment banker Marty Kalish stands accused of killing Dr. Derrick Reinhardt, whose abused wife, Rachel, was Kalish's lover. Kalish, the police allege, shot Reinhardt so he could have Rachel all to himself as well as put an end to her physical torment. A devilishly subversive thinker, Kalish hires the best lawyers in town, asks them what his strongest defense would be, then fashions his explanation for the killing to suit that strategy. His tactics work well until it becomes apparent that the police and prosecutors are not quite as gullible as he expects them to be. No problem. Kalish simply changes his story, adding another twist involving one of Reinhardt's neighbors. In the end, Kalish finds out that even more cunning minds than his were churning away as he scrambled to convince the jury of his version of events. Ellis's fine use of the first-person narrative brings out the full flavor of Kalish's personality and helps drive the plot into areas of character where courtroom thrillers rarely venture. He stretches credibility at a few points--for example, Kalish, who faces the death penalty, is allowed to remain free throughout his trial--but the exciting payoff proves ample compensation. (Feb. 19) Forecast: Ellis comes on strong here, writing a twisty, spellbinding story with a subtext: that our legal system is vulnerable to producing results that defy both logic and the facts. Expect healthy sales from thriller readers eager for a fresh voice and a cynical point of view--if they are alerted that Ellis offers those in spades. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
When his illicit romance turns fatal, an investment banker struggles with the impossible task of protecting both his inamorata and himself. One minute Marty Kalish was standing outside Rachel Reinardt's den, enjoying the striptease she always performed for him Thursday nights; the next minute he'd broken into the den, drawn irresistibly in by the sudden apparition of Dr. Reinardt raping his wife; and the minute after that, he was standing over Reinardt's dead body, promising Rachel that he'd do whatever it took to shield her from the ugliness of the crime just before he lit out with the corpse virtually under the eyes of the first officers on the scene. After burying the body and disposing of the evidence against him, Marty returns to his daily routine, but now he's in a fog: All he can think of is how long it'll be before the police come after him. Sure enough, he's questioned, arrested, indicted, and put on trial for the murder of Derrick Reinardta trial whose outcome is severely biased by the fact that Marty actually confessed to one of the cops interrogating him, though he had the presence of mind not to repeat the confession for a stenographer or a tape recorder. As his high-priced legal team considers one defense after another, however, resourceful Marty obligingly keeps changing his story to suit each one, plotting all the while how he's going to deal with the elusive eyewitness who says he saw Marty pull the trigger. It all comes down to an extended courtroom sequence in which lawyers battle for pages upon grueling pages over the most minute points, with Marty's and Rachel's lives both hanging in the balance. ThoughEllisdoesn't sustain the breakneck pace of hisobvious model, C.W. Grafton's classic Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, his stylish debut comes up with a couple of neat moves that Sue Grafton's father never so much as thought of.
From the Publisher
"The best suspense novel I've read in a while...surprising." James Patterson
"Wicked...A twisty spellbinding story." Publishers Weekly
Read an Excerpt
Something is wrong with this picture.
The winds on November 18 are unusually strong for this time of year, even by midwestern standards, carrying mist and some stray leaves in the night air. It doesn't make my journey up the three acres of the Reinardts' backyard any easier. The ground is hard, but still damp from today's rain. My feet keep slipping on the blanket of wet leaves. I silently curse the midwestern weather, the Indian summer that provides us these leaves that should have disappeared weeks ago, the abrupt plummet of the temperature this week. I feel the near-freezing mist on my cheeks, which are about the only parts of my body exposed to the elements. But even as I trudge up the hill, focused on the ground--both to avoid the wind and to watch my step--I sense that something is out of place. The typical leap of my heart when I make it into the clearing, the dreamy sensation as I approach the house--none of this fills me now. Something is different.
I readjust the wool scarf, wrapped tightly around my face and irritating my skin to no end. Back before I crossed the stream, I was forced to tie it in a knot behind my head, or else it would fly off. Every few steps now, I stop to pull it back over my nose.
I press on, with my head down and eyes open in slants; no angle is safe from the relentless, swirling wind. My hands have curled into fists to keep warm, leaving the finger holes of my gloves empty.
I make it up the hill to within about thirty yards of the old Victorian house. It's been, what, sixteen years since high school, and it feels more like thirty to my legs. I catch my breath next to my favorite oak tree, whose naked branches wave mercilessly from side to side in this wind.
The estate of Dr. Derrick Reinardt and his wife, Rachel, rests triumphantly on top of a small hill in the suburb of Highland Woods. Your basic spread in this north-shore bedroom community: sprawling acreage in the back with no front yard to speak of, a fairly unassuming exterior masking the ornate decor within. This is the upper-class side of the suburb--not mega-rich family money but working-class wealth, CEOs, doctors, personal-injury lawyers, a former governor--and the houses in this neighborhood remind me of tiny fiefdoms, wide plots bordered by trees and shrubbery that serve more to ensure privacy than to impress. This is not a bad thing, mind you; there is no way that a neighbor could see me back here.
The Reinardts have a long, wooden back patio with a surprisingly simple array of wood furniture and a gas barbecue grill that is covered this time of the year with a thick gray tarp. The den is in the back of the house by the patio, separated by a large sliding glass door with a silk curtain that--
The curtain is open.
Wait. Today's Thursday, right? Yeah, of course it is. Am I late? Could she be done already?
I furiously pull back my coat sleeve to look at my watch, which is no small chore wearing these gloves. No. No. I be late.
No. The fluorescent numbers read 9:34. As usual, I'm way early. Maybe she hasn't set up yet. But--that doesn't make sense, either. She usually has everything ready well before she starts. She knows I get here early, likes the fact that I'm waiting with anticipation. No, the curtain should definitely be closed.
I stand around for a couple of minutes, looking over the house, seeing nothing, no sign of Rachel. Tonight the sky offers no light; the warm-weather insects do not provide their creaks and calls. The fury of the wind mutes all sound, leaving me to a silent film with not much for video, either.
Maybe she just got a late start, is all. Maybe she'll come down soon. I yank my scarf down just in time to sneeze into my gloves. Then I sneeze again. I wipe my hands on the tree.
"This is ridiculous," I say to no one, though this is really not the most appropriate word to describe me at this moment, a grown man sneaking around outside a married woman's house. Pathetic. Depraved. Perverted. All of the above?
I consider leaving. It can't be more than twenty degrees out here, well below zero with the wind chill. God, the wind is whipping up something awful.
"Story of my life," I mumble, again to an audience of no one. All dressed up and nowhere to go.
My mind drifts from my aborted fantasy show to work tomorrow. I have to get in early anyway, get ready for the presentation. It's probably just as well. Time to turn back, no more jollies, adult responsibility time. But still, my feet remain planted. I think of Rachel's words, almost two weeks ago to the day. I had mentioned her husband in an offhanded way, an innocuous comment, I don't even recall what. Her outburst of tears, the contortion of her face, her eyes squeezed shut.
"Tell me, Rachel," I said.
She shook her head. "No," she whispered.
I sat up on an elbow on the bed, moved the wisps of bangs from her forehead. "Tell me, sweetie. Tell me what's going on."
Her sobbing subsided momentarily. She swallowed hard. "If he ever knew I told some"
"Oh, honey. He'll never know. You think I'm gonna tell him?" I actually laughed as I said that. Then I took her hand in mine. "Told someone about what?"
The lights are on upstairs. I look up at the windows. No silhouettes. No sign of life.
"Sometimes," she started. "Sometimes he--" Her eyes closed, her mouth turned in a frown.
"Rach, sweetie, it's me. Tell me about it."
She let out a sigh. She had settled on it now. She would tell me. Her eyes opened into mine.
I look back down into the den, the only room I can see into. Nothing. Nada. The staircase that leads to the bottom floor winds around at the last two stairs and ends at the cream tiled hallway, which leads past the living room into the den. From my view, I can see those last two stairs, the hallway, and the den. On the right side of the den is a white, deliciously soft couch. At the back end of the den, opposite the sliding glass door, is the bar, lined with bottles of liquor, oak cabinets underneath.
I do another once-over around the house. Not a creature is stirring.
"It's only sometimes," she said, apologizing for her husband. "Only when he drinks."
"Okay," I said quietly, "it's only sometimes." I brought a hand to her face, then thought the gesture inappropriate. She needed space, time.
She sighed again, her body letting out a tremble.
"He hits me, Marty," she whispered. "My husband beats me."
Still nothing upstairs. It's 9:37. My anxieties getting the better of me, images running wild in my mind, but the truth is, no one's home. She's probably at dinner with him or something. Regardless, the regularly scheduled programming will not be seen tonight, and all I'm gonna have to show for it is hypothermia and a bruised ego. Time to cut my losses. I look back down the hill at the woods that form the name of our town, Highland Woods. The entire suburb has built up around this mini forest, which has made my path to and from the Reinardts' house these many days a conveniently clandestine one. Over the stream and through the woods. To grandmother's house we go. I swear, that stupid song comes into my head every time I make this trip.
I looked over my beautiful Rachel, her neck, her shoulders, her face.
She sensed what I was doing. "No," she said flatly. Her face pale, void of any expression, she lifted herself from the bed and turned, adjusting herself so she sat with her back to me.
Before she had settled I saw them. I brought a trembling hand to her back but didn't make contact. Three, four, five lacerations, long spindly scars forming a gruesome road map down the center of her back. I remembered then her wincing while we had made love earlier, as I sank my fingers into her back.
Guilt was the first thing that I felt. How had I not noticed these before? How long had this gone on, and I hadn't noticed?
I brought my arms around her, pulling her backward against my chest, my face buried in her neck.
"He uses his belt," she said with no inflection. "But never my face. He's too smart for that. He even keeps it below the neckline. Scars you can never see."
I look back at the den again. I stuff my hands into my jacket pockets and stomp my feet in a feeble attempt to keep warm. I fix on the staircase in the hallway, my eyes tearing from the wind.
I jump at the sight of her, my one and only, my beautiful Rachel, the jet-black hair to her shoulders, the shapely outline, even from a distance the shiny amber eyes. My hand leaves my pocket just in time to grab the tree to keep my balance. She must have been in the living room, not upstairs. Or did I miss her coming down the stairs?
I can't make out her features very well; I'm too faraway to see the expression on her face. She's wearing a whitish blouse and blue slacks, not her ordinary attire for the occasion--she usually opts for a negligee, sometimes surprises me with an outfit like a schoolgirl skirt and knee-high socks. But tonight, as she walks along the tiled hallway in a semi crouch, almost tiptoeing yet moving with some urgency, Rachel is anything but provocative, her whole body wearing an obvious pain, maybe fear.
Scars you can never see.
She reaches the den, still crouching sheepishly, one hand tucked under her shirt. She walks to the bar. Her back is to me as she reaches the counter, a deep mahogany brown. She keeps looking up at the ceiling, probably listening for her husband upstairs? At the bar, she raises a trembling hand to the ice bucket. She removes a couple of cubes but knocks the tumbler sideways, the ice spilling onto the bar and floor.
Her head turns upward again.
It's only when he drinks.
She sets the glass upright, stuffs some more ice into it, and reaches for a bottle of liquor. She fills the glass and tries to gather the spilled ice. But her hand is shaking so hard that she can barely put the cubes back into the container.
The other hand remains tucked under her shirt.
She looks up again, but this time not straight at the ceiling. This time, she looks more toward the staircase in the hallway. Her hands are still now.
A clumsy, uncertain foot stomps onto that last stair, then into the hallway. Dr. Reinardt is wearing an oxford shirt, haphazardly tucked into his pants, with the sleeves rolled up. His movements are slow and awkward. He stops at one point in the hallway and reaches out to the wall to steady himself.
The doctor can't see Rachel yet; she is still by the bar, against the front wall of the den. But now Rachel has placed the drink on the bar; she is reaching behind the bottles of booze that line the back of the countertop. She pulls the bottles back and reaches out with her other hand. I catch a glimpse of shiny steel as she raises the object over and behind the bottles.
I shift and feel the wood from the Reinardts' deck. I'm only about twenty feet from the glass door now. The deck is raised three steps off the grass, leaving me the perfect amount of space to crouch down from their view. I reach up to the deck for balance and realize that my hands, like Rachel's, are trembling.
The outside porch light is off, so they can't see me unless they're looking. And as Dr. Reinardt enters the den, he is not looking out the glass door.
He stops and just stares at Rachel. She reaches for the glass on the bar, but the doctor, without moving, says something to her that makes her put her hands at her side. He says nothing more, just glares at her.
Rachel fidgets. She brushes back a strand of hair from her face, then puts her hands at her side again. She's talking to him, her head moving compliantly, but he doesn't respond. Finally, she picks up the glass and offers it to her husband. When he doesn't take it, she sets it down on the bar near him. The doctor lashes out with his right hand, knocking the glass and its golden contents to the carpet. Rachel instinctively steps back, says something in apology, then crouches down to retrieve the glass and ice. She is facing me now. For the first time, I see her face. I can make out cuts and bruises on her cheeks.
Scars you can see.
Rachel stands now, turning away from me and toward her husband. Her hands raise in compromise; she's trying to calm him.
The doctor staggers toward his wife, who holds her ground. They are face-to-face now. As slow as he's moving, his right hand rises in a flash, fist half closed. Rachel's head whips to the right, her hair and arms flying wildly, her knees buckling as she falls backward to the carpet. She lands awkwardly on an elbow, then rolls over so she's facing the carpet. The doctor nods approvingly, that's-what-ya-get, as Rachel brings a hand to the developing bruise below her eye.
Rachel slowly makes it to her feet again, her hand returning to her cheek, her entire body trembling.
"I know how it'll end," she told me only a few days ago. " He told me how."
Dr. Reinardt approaches her. He grabs her by both arms, shaking her. Rachel breaks a hand free and swings it lifelessly toward his face.
I am on the deck now, crouched down like a catcher, as I watch this silent horror movie, no sound but the thump-thump, thump of my pulse. The only thing separating me from the sliding glass door is the wooden bench and the picnic table.
"Tell me how, Rach."
Dr. Reinardt reasserts his grip on Rachel. He pulls down on her, forcing her to the carpet in a vise grip. Once on the floor, he tears at her blouse.
"He's going to rape me first. He said he'll rape me then kill me."
And then, as I grip the wooden bench and slowly rise, it is suddenly clear to me. And something like calm sweeps over me, a certain focus through the panic. Because now I know how this story will end. Reprinted from Line of Vision by David Ellis by permission of Putnam, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 David Ellis. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.