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From Barnes & NobleThe 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).