The Mercy Rule (Dismas Hardy Series #5)

( 5 )

Overview

Justice...

Once Dismas Hardy was a cop. Now he spends his days in a lawyer's suit, billing hours to a corporate client in a downtown San Francisco office. Hardy's wife and kids like it that way. Then one client changes everything.

Compassion...

Graham Russo, a former baseball star, is charged with murdering his dying father. Was it suicide, ...

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Overview

Justice...

Once Dismas Hardy was a cop. Now he spends his days in a lawyer's suit, billing hours to a corporate client in a downtown San Francisco office. Hardy's wife and kids like it that way. Then one client changes everything.

Compassion...

Graham Russo, a former baseball star, is charged with murdering his dying father. Was it suicide, the last desperate act of a dying man? Was it murder? Or mercy?

Murder...

Now, as a carnival of reporters, activists, cops, lovers, and families throng around the case, Dismas Hardy is going to trial with a client he doesn't trust, a key witness he cannot believe, and a system that almost destroyed him once. For Dismas, this case will challenge everything he believes about the law, about his family, and about himself. Because a chilling truth is beginning to emerge about an old man's lonely death. And what Dismas knows could put him next in line to die. . . .

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
John Lescroart's The Mercy Rule is a tragic story that shoots straight from the headlines but is twice as fantastic. When Salvatore Russo, an elderly man with a steadily worsening case of Alzheimer's, is found dead in his ransacked apartment, lawyer Dismas Hardy must determine if it was suicide, mercy killing, or murder.
From the Publisher
"Very entertaining. . . a large and emotionally sprawling novel."
Chicago Tribune

"A taut read. . . Another winner."
San Francisco Chronicle

"A thought-provoking and important novel."
—Nelson DeMille

Carroll
Looks like John Lescroart has another winner with his The Mercy Rule . . . Off the top of my head, I can't think of another novelist who writes with more affection about San Francisco. The Chamber of Commerce ought to have him on the payroll. Lescroart knows North Beach inside and out, knows the avenues like a deliveryman, has an astute take on the oddball politics of this burg. His new legal thriller, the fifth Dismas Hardy novel, delves into assisted suicide . . . A son is accused in the death of his father, who suffered from Alzheimer's and brain cancer. The grandstanding district attorney declines to prosecute, so the attorney general steps in. "I didn't start out to write such a political novel, but it just turned out that way." In his usual style, Lescroart throws a number of ingredients into the stew. While defending his client, lawyer Hardy struggles with burnout and family responsibilities. A taut read. --(Jerry Carroll - "Lively Arts," San Francisco Chronicle, August 12, 1998)
Faye Kellerman
An edge-of-the-seat thriller that has it all - hot-button issues, deception, greed, corruption and labyrinthine plot that will keep you guessing until the very last page.
T. Jefferson Parker
The best legal thriller I've read in this decade. I dare anyone to read twenty pages and not be absolutely taken with it. Absolutely superior work.
Karen Kijewski
Stacked with powerful and unforgettable characters, taut and suspenseful, The Mercy Rule is a brilliant and compelling courtroom drama. A masterpiece.
People Magazine
Beloved San Francisco fishmonger "Salmon" Sal Russo lies dead in his dingy room. He suffered from Alzheimer's disease and an inoperable brain tumor. Found at the scene: empty vials of morphine, a syringe and a Do Not Resuscitate notice. Suicide? The police arrest his estranged son Graham for "helping" his father to die, a capital crime under California law. For Graham's attorney Dismas Hardy - the protagonist of several successful Lescroart novels - the case leads to a labyrinth of lies, old crimes and tangled relationships inside the federal justice system.
Carefully wrapped in a stylish whodunit, The Mercy Rule is a morality play about assisted suicide that finds Lescroart in his best form yet. Bottom Line: A master's take on a troubling social issue.
Philadelphia Inquirer
Dismas Hardy, the San Francisco lawyer at the center of John Lescroart's The Mercy Rule is named for the good thief who was crucified next to Jesus. This time out, Dismas - also the central character of Lescroart's excellent The 13th Juror - reluctantly takes on Graham Russo as a client. Graham, with his "lumberjack's shoulders," was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers. His baseball dream turned into a nightmare when he fouled a ball into his own left eye. Turning to the law, he graduated at the top of his class, was hired for a one-year term as a clerk, and then left that plum job after six months. Could life get any worse for the handsome, golden-haired youth? Well, yes. His father, Salvatore, who was dying of a brain tumor, has been found dead by a longtime friend - before the tumor could kill him. From a self-injected overdose of morphine? Or murdered by Graham?
As usual in a Lescroart novel, character dominates plot as the author proves, yet again, that resonant drama can be found in family: the talented but deeply troubled Russos. Lescoart also walks the fictional high wire without a net below in having Homicide Inspector Sarah Evans get involved with Graham. Usually a tiresome gimmick to add romance to the mix, the relationship reveals both of them as richly complex people. Readers of The 13th Juror will already be off reading this book, not this review. Join them.
J.D. Reed
Carefully wrapped in a stylish whodunit, The Mercy Rule is a morality play about assisted suicide that finds Lescroart in his best form yet. -- People
Playboy
In the top ranks of crime writers.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
For a topical thriller from an established talent, Lescroart's 10th (after Guilt) is curiously flat. Maybe it's the cliche factor--which surfaces fast, when San Francisco lawyer Dismas Hardy (back from The 13th Juror) gets a call from Graham Russo, who's accused of killing his ailing father, Sal, and responds with a hackneyed riff on the Reluctant Lawyer theme. It turns out that Russo is sleeping with his arresting officer, Inspector Sarah Evans, who thinks he's innocent--even though every time he's asked a new set of questions, his old answers are revealed to be lies. It seems Sal had friends in high places (among them federal judge Mario Giotti); because his death appears to be a mercy killing, the DA is not going to press charges. But Russo is indicted anyway, and he wants Hardy to ignore a mercy killing defense and prove his total innocence. This is when the plot should take off, but it doesn't. The key questions are clear: Do lawkeepers have the moral obligation to enforce what they believe to be a bad law? Is a lawyer supposed to do what the client wants, or what will get the client off? No sooner does Lescroart pose these questions than he forgets about them, widening his lens to an angle that reduces everything to the same scale. There are many small successes--the courtroom scenes are little masterpieces of battlefield maneuvering--but, because the book's only overarching concerns are plot-related (Hardy's reluctance, Russo's affair, Russo's innocence), the added level of depth and concern that would create a truly great courtroom thriller are absent. BDD audio. (Sept.)
Library Journal
In Lescroart's (Guilt, LJ 5/1/97) latest legal thriller, attorney Dismas Hardy agrees to defend his friend Graham Russo, accused of murdering his own father. Sal Russo, suffering from Alzheimer's disease and an inoperable brain tumor, is losing his capacity to take care of himself and is beginning to experience severe pain, making no secret of his plan to inject himself with morphine and eventually use the drug to end his suffering. When Sal is found dead of an overdose, his apartment in disarray, and $50,000 missing, the police suspect that his death was not a suicide. Graham, who tells numerous lies when questioned, quickly becomes the police department's only suspect. Dismas doesn't believe Graham is guilty of the charges, but he also doesn't believe that Graham assisted in his father's suicide, as many others think and as he must argue in court to acquit his client of murder. This satisfying legal thriller will surely please fans of the genre. Recommended for all popular fiction collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/98.]--Melissa Kuzma Rokicki, West Orange P.L., NJ
Library Journal
Bartender-turned-lawyer Dismas Hardy follows up his successful venture in The 13th Juror with a new case: did lawyer Graham Russo, once a promising ball player, mercifully kill his dying father with morphine, or was it murder?
Carroll
A taut read. . .another winner. -- San Francisco Chronicle
Book World Washington Post
One of the best in this flourishing genre to come along in a while.
Kirkus Reviews
San Francisco lawyer Dismas Hardy (A Certain Justice, 1995, etc.) is back from Lescroart's disappointing Guilt (1997)þthis time defending a potential case of euthanasia in a gripping but erratically plotted legal drama. Even though he hadn't seen his divorced father Salvatore (illegal fish merchant "Salmon Sal") for 15 years, Graham Russo had grown close to him once more after learning that the old man had Alzheimer's, plus a brain tumor that would probably kill him first. So when Sal dies after a lethal cocktail of Old Crow and morphine, and the evidence points toward murder, the cops pick up Graham. Almost as quickly, however, they let him go, because politically-minded District Attorney Sharron Pratt is bent on making San Francisco a haven for mercy-killings. Graham would be home free, owing his lawyer Hardy only a few hundred, if only the state's Attorney General shared the D.A.'s views. But Graham, an ex-ballplayer who alienated every lawyer in town when he quit a federal clerkship in a futile attempt to get his baseball career back, has enemies in the Attorney General's office who are salivating over the chance to indict him for murder with specials (the robbery of $50,000 and Sal's baseball card collection). Hardy's obvious move is to plead manslaughter. But Graham, insisting he never gave that lethal injection, seems as avid to go to trial as his worst enemies. Meantime, a dozen pots bubble ominously in the background. Graham starts an affair with one of the arresting officers. Hardy struggles to locate a mysterious legatee Sal designated. A complicated civil case claims hours he should be using to prepare his defense. And so to trial, and the unguessable surpriseLescroart has left till after the verdict. Lots going on, then, though even the most patient readers may finish the book annoyed with the score of characters left undeveloped, and the way their feelings about euthanasia have been toyed with in what turns out to be a leviathan red herring.
Publishers Weekly
Lescroart's multilayered 1999 novel, the fifth to feature San Francisco bartender-turned-barrister Dismas Hardy, is a heady brew of courtroom drama, hot topics (assisted suicide), and family dynamics among richly drawn characters. David Colacci, the primary narrator of the series, brings back his renditions of Hardy's easygoing but always intelligent voice and his police lieutenant Abe Glitsky's hoarse delivery, along with introducing a cast of new characters. New interpretations include a gruff, halting speech pattern for fishmonger Salvatore Russo, an Alzheimer's sufferer whose death triggers the plot; the calm, almost beatific voice of Sal's son, Graham, who's charged with Salvatore's murder; and the fluty, aristocratic murmurs of Sal's socially prominent, long-since-remarried ex-wife. Though the author may go a little too far in placing the heroic Hardy in final jeopardy, Colacci maintains the perfect pace throughout, moving us through the thrills to a smooth and satisfying conclusion. A Dell paperback. (Nov.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780440222828
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/10/1999
  • Series: Dismas Hardy Series , #5
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 640
  • Sales rank: 197,125
  • Product dimensions: 6.86 (w) x 10.88 (h) x 1.35 (d)

Meet the Author

John T. Lescroart
John Lescroart is the bestselling author of eighteen previous novels, which have sold more than ten million copies. He lives with his family in Northern California.

Biography

John Lescroart has made a name (albeit an unpronounceable one!) for himself as the author of crime thrillers, most notably an acclaimed series starring the San Francisco lawyer-and-cop team of Dismas Hardy and Abe Glitsky. But the road to bestsellerdom has been paved with more than a few unexpected detours for this hardworking novelist, who has been writing all his adult life but who only started to chart big around the mid-1990s.

Lescroart (pronounced les-KWA) grew up with an equal interest in music and writing. After college, he concentrated his energies on the former, performing alone and in bands around the San Francisco Bay area and scribbling in whatever spare time he could find. But he set a deadline for himself, and when he had not "made it" by age 30, he quit music to focus on writing. Within weeks he finished up a novel-in-progress based on his experiences living in Spain. He submitted it to a former high school teacher who was less than dazzled; but the man's wife loved it and entered the manuscript in a local competition. Although it would not formally see print for another four years, Sunburn won the prestigious Joseph Henry Jackson Award, beating out Anne Rice's Interview with a Vampire for the best novel by a California author.

To support his art, Lescroart held down a dizzying succession of jobs -- from house painting and bartending to working as a legal secretary. At one point, just as he was ready to enroll in the creative writing program at Amherst, he was offered a lucrative gig he could not afford to pass up, and graduate school fell by the wayside. As the years passed, some of his books were published, but he never felt financially secure enough to write full-time. Then, in 1989, he contracted spinal meningitis after body-surfing in contaminated seawater. He emerged from his life-threatening ordeal with a new resolve, quit the last of his day jobs, and became a real working novelist.

It took a few tries for Dismas Hardy to become the fully realized character Lescroart's fans have come to know and love. Debuting in 1989's Dead Irish, Hardy began life as an ex-cop/ex-attorney turned bartender and did not return to the practice of law until his third appearance in Hard Evidence (1993). From then on, interest grew in the series, which has snowballed into a lucrative franchise for the author. In 2006, Lescroart introduced another San Francisco-based dynamic duo, private investigator Wyatt Hunt and homicide detective Devin Juhle, in The Hunt Club. Slightly younger than Hardy and Glitsky but drawn with the same humanizing brush, the protagonists of this series have proved immensely popular with readers.

Incidentally, Lescroart's writing success has allowed him to return to his other love: He has founded his own independent label, CrowArt Records, which showcases some of his own music and produces CDs by a number of artist/friends. At long last, John Lescroart is able to enjoy the best of both worlds.

Good To Know

In our exclusive interview, Lescroart let us in on some fun and fascinating insights about himself and his life as a writer:

"First, it's Less-KWAH. Here's a tip -- don't have that name. Get a pen name that people can pronounce and remember. Just this Saturday, I gave a talk at a well-attended writers' conference. There were probably a hundred people in the room, and the talk went very well. Five minutes later, I was in the bathroom washing my hands and around the corner, I heard a guy tell another that he'd just heard the greatest talk by John le Carré. 'You know, The Tailor of Panama and the Smiley books? Good stuff. I'm going to go buy all his books.'"

"Second, I didn't have to quit the day job to keep writing. One of the most productive times in my early writing life was while I had a full-time job as a word processor in a law firm and also worked part-time at night, often working until 11:00 p.m. How did I do any writing, you might ask? Well, I did it between 6:00 and 8:00 in the morning, four pages a day, and published five books in six years. But because a) I was making some money doing 'regular' work and didn't have to be scrounging for coin and b) I was panic-stricken at the little time that was left in the day to write, I wound up becoming more efficient."

"Third, I don't wait on inspiration, and I refuse to acknowledge 'writer's block.' I simply sit down and put words on the paper. It's like being a carpenter -- writers build things. Carpenters don't wake up and say, 'Hmm, I'm not in the mood to drive nails today.' No, they go to work and do the job. It's not very romantic, but that's how I approach writing."

"If you have a good relationship, nurture it. The great god of Writing with a capital "W" isn't the only thing in life. It can be a great part and a big part, but it shouldn't consume you on a daily basis and shouldn't make your life miserable all the time. Try not to get nuts about the greater success of other writers -- we're really not in competition with other writers. We're only trying to outdo ourselves, to get better at our jobs. Go on dates. Spend some time outside (fishing is good, so is skiing, hiking, swimming, jogging). Stay in shape -- writing is a marathon. Don't drink too much. Have as much fun as you can."

Lescroart used to perform as "Johnny Capo" in a group called Johnny Capo and His Real Good Band. Although he no longer performs with that outfit, he still pursues music as the founder of his very own independent label called CrowArt Records. The first project on the label was Date Night, a CD of his own compositions performed by master pianist Antonio Castillo de la Gala. Followers of Lescroart's writing may recognize the in-joke in the album's title. As he explains on his web site, "Fans of Dismas Hardy will know that Diz and Frannie (Dismas's wife) set aside every Wednesday night for some time alone together -- it's their date night."

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    1. Also Known As:
      John Lescroart
    2. Hometown:
      El Macero, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 14, 1948
    2. Place of Birth:
      Houston, Texas
    1. Education:
      B.A. in English with Honors, UC Berkeley, 1970

Read an Excerpt

Dismas Hardy was enjoying a superb round of darts, closing in on what  might become a personal best.

He was in his office on a Monday morning, throwing his twenty-gram  hand-tooled, custom-flighted tungsten beauties. He called the game  "twenty-down" although it wasn't any kind of sanctioned affair. It had  begun as simple practice—once around and down the board from "20" to  bull's-eye. He'd turned the practice rounds into a game against  himself.

His record was twenty-five throws. The best possible round  was twenty-one, and now he was shooting at the "3" with his nineteenth  dart. A twenty-two was still possible. Beating twenty-five was going to be  a lock, assuming his concentration didn't get interrupted.

On his desk the telephone buzzed.

He'd worked downtown at an office on Sutter Street for nearly six years.  The rest of the building was home to David Freeman & Associates, a law  firm specializing in plaintiffs' personal injury and criminal defense  work. But Hardy wasn't one of Freeman's associates. Technically, he didn't  work for Freeman at all, although lately almost all of his billable hours  had come from a client his landlord had farmed out to him.

Hardy occupied the only office on the top floor of the building. Both  literally and figuratively he was on his own.

He held on to his dart and threw an evil eye at the telephone behind him,  which buzzed again. To throw now would be to miss. He sat back on the  desk, punched a button. "Yo."

Freeman's receptionist, Phyllis, had grown to tolerate, perhaps even  like, Hardy, although it was plain that she disapproved of his casual  attitude. This was a law firm. Lawyers should answer their phone crisply,  with authority and dignity. They shouldn't just pick up and say "Yo."

He took an instant's pleasure in her sigh.

She lowered her voice. "There's a man down here to see you. He doesn't have an appointment." It was the same tone she would have used if the guest had stepped in something on the sidewalk. "He says he knows you from"—a pause while she sought a suitable euphemism. She finally failed and had to come out with the hated truth—"your bar. His name is Graham Russo."

Hardy knew half a dozen Russos—it was a common name in San Francisco—but hearing that Graham from the Little Shamrock was downstairs, presumably in need of a lawyer's services, narrowed it down.

Hardy glanced at his wall calendar. It was Monday, May 12. Sighing, he put his precious dart down on his desk and told Phyllis to send Mr. Russo right on up.

Hardy was standing at his door as Graham trudged up the stairs, a handsome, athletic young guy with the weight of this world on his shoulders. And at least one other world, Hardy knew, that had crashed and burned all around him.

They had met when Graham showed up for a beer at the Shamrock. Over the course of the night Hardy, moonlighting behind the bar, found out a lot about him. Graham, too, was an attorney, although he wasn't practicing right at the moment. The community had blackballed him.

Hardy had had his own run-ins with the legal bureaucracy and knew how devastating the ostracism could be. Hell, even when you were solidly within it, the law life itself was so unrelentingly adversarial that the whole world sometimes took on a hostile aspect.

So the two men had hit it off. Both men were estranged from the law in their own ways. Graham had stayed after last call, helped clean up. He was a sweet kid—maybe a little naive and idealistic, but his head seemed to be on straight. Hardy liked him.

*
• *

Before the law Graham's world had been baseball. An All-American center fielder at USF during the late eighties, he'd batted .373 and had been drafted in the sixth round by the Dodgers. He then played two years in the minor leagues, making it to Double-A San Antonio before he'd fouled a ball into his own left eye. That injury had hospitalized him for three weeks, and when he got out, his vision didn't come with him. And so with a lifetime pro average of .327, well on the way to the bigs, he'd had to give it all up.

Rootless and disheartened, he had enrolled in law school at Boalt Hall in Berkeley. Graduating at the top of his class, he beat out intense competition and got hired for a one-year term as a clerk with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. But he only stayed six months.

In early 1994—the year of the baseball strike—about two months after he passed the bar, he quit. He wanted, after all, to play baseball. So he went to Vero Beach, Florida, to try out as a replacement player for the Dodgers.

And he made the team.

At the Shamrock he'd made it clear to Hardy that he'd never have played as a scab. All along, all he'd wanted out of the deal was for the Dodgers to take another look at him. The fuzziness had disappeared from his vision; he was still in great shape. He thought he could shine in spring training, get cut as a replacement when they all did, but at least have a shot at the minors again.

And that's what happened. He started the '94 season with the Albuquerque Dukes, Triple A, farther along the path to the major leagues than he'd been seven years earlier.

But he couldn't find the damn curveball and the new shot at his baseball career, upon which he'd risked everything, lasted only six weeks. His average was .192 when he got cut outright. He hadn't had a hit in his last seven games. Hell, he told Hardy, he would have cut himself.

Graham had a lumberjack's shoulders and the long legs of a high hurdler. Under a wave of golden hair his square-jawed face was clean shaven. Today he wore a gray-blue sport coat over a royal-blue dress shirt, stonewashed jeans, cowboy boots.

He was leaning forward on the front of the upholstered chair in front of Hardy's desk, elbows on his knees. Hardy noticed the hands clasped in front of him—the kind of hands that, when he got older, people would call gnarled—workingman's hands, huge and somehow expressive.

Graham essayed a smile. "I don't even know why I'm here, tell you the truth."

Hardy's face creased. "I often feel the same way myself." He was sitting on the corner of his desk. "Your dad?"

Graham nodded.

Salvatore Russo—Herb Caen's column had dubbed him Salmon Sal and the name had stuck—was recent news. Despondent over poor health, his aging body, and financial ruin, Sal had apparently killed himself last Friday by having a few cocktails, then injecting himself with morphine. He'd left a Do Not Resuscitate form for the paramedics, but he was already dead when they'd arrived.

To the public at large Sal was mostly unknown. But he was well known in San Francisco's legal community. Every Friday Sal would make the rounds of the city's law workshops in an old Ford pickup. Behind the Hall of Justice, where Hardy would see him, he'd park by the hydrant and sell salmon, abalone, sturgeon, caviar, and any other produce of the sea he happened to get his hands on. His customers included cops, federal-, municipal-, and superior-court judges, attorneys, federal marshals, sheriffs, and the staffs at both halls—Justice and City—and at the federal courthouse.

The truck appeared only one day a week, but since Sal's seafood was always fresher and a lot cheaper than at the markets, he apparently made enough to survive, notwithstanding the fact that he did it all illegally.

His salmon had their tails clipped, which meant they had been caught for sport and couldn't be sold. Abalone was the same story; private parties taking abalone for commercial sale had been outlawed for years. His winter-run chinooks had probably been harvested by Native Americans using gill nets. And yet year after year this stuff would appear in Sal's truckbed.

Salmon Sal had no retail license, but it didn't matter because he was connected. His childhood pals knew him from the days when Fisherman's Wharf was a place where men went down to the sea in boats. Now these boys were judges and police lieutenants and heads of departments. They were not going to bust him.

Sal might live on the edge of the law, but the establishment considered him one of the good guys—a character in his yellow scarves and hip boots, the unlit stogie chomped down to its last inch, the gallon bottles from which he dispensed red and white plonk in Dixie cups along with a steady stream of the most politically incorrect jokes to be found in San Francisco.

The day Hardy had met Sal, over a decade ago, he'd been with Abe Glitsky. Glitsky was half black and half Jewish and every inch of him scary looking—a hatchet face and a glowing scar through his lips, top to bottom. Sal had seen him, raised his voice. "Hey, Abe, there's this black guy and this Jew sitting on the top of this building and they both fall off at the same time. Which one hits the ground first?"

"I don't know, Sal," Glitsky answered, "which one?"

"Who cares?"

Now Sal was dead and the newspapers had been rife with conjecture: early evidence indicated that someone had been in the room with him when he'd died. A chair knocked over in the kitchen. Angry sounds. Other evidence of struggle.

The police were calling the death suspicious. Maybe someone had helped Sal die—put him on an early flight.

"I didn't know Sal was your father," Hardy said. "Not until just now."

"Yeah, well. I didn't exactly brag about him." Graham took a breath and looked beyond Hardy, out the window. "The funeral's tomorrow."

When no more words came, Hardy prompted him. "Are you in trouble?"

"No!" A little too quickly, too loud. Graham toned it down some. "No, I don't think so. I don't know why I would be."

Hardy waited some more.

"I mean, there's a lot happening all at once. The estate—although the word estate is a joke. Dad asked me to be his executor although we never got around to drawing up the will, so where does that leave it? Your guess is as good as mine."

"You weren't close, you and your dad?"

Graham took a beat before he answered. "Not very."

Hardy thought the eye contact was a little overdone, but he let it go. He'd see where this all was leading. "So you need help with the estate? What kind of help?"

"That's just it. I don't know what I need. I need help in general." Graham hung his head and shook it, then looked back up. "The cops have been around, asking questions."

"What kind of questions?"

"Where was I on Friday? Did I know about my dad's condition? Like that. It was obvious where they were going." Graham's blue eyes flashed briefly in anger, maybe frustration. "How can they think I know anything about this? My dad killed himself for a lot of good reasons. The guy's disoriented, losing his mind. He's in awesome pain. I'd've done the same thing."

"And what do the police think?"

"I don't know what they can be thinking." Another pause. "I hadn't seen him in a week. First I heard of it was Saturday night. Some homicide cop is at my place when I get home."

"Where'd you get home from?"

"Ball game." He raised his eyes again, spit out the next word. "Softball. We had a tournament in Santa Clara, got eliminated in  the fourth game, so I got home early, around six."

"So where were you Friday night?"

Graham spread his Rodin hands. "I didn't kill my dad."

"I didn't ask that. I asked about Friday night."

He let out a breath, calming down. "After work, home."

"Alone?"

He smiled. "Just like the movie. Home alone. I love that answer. The cop liked it, too, but for different reasons. I could tell."

Hardy nodded. "Cops can be tough to please."

"I worked till nine-thirty. . . ."

"What do you do, besides baseball?"

Graham corrected him. "Softball." A shrug. "I've been working as a paramedic since . . . well, lately."

"Okay. So you were riding in an ambulance Friday night?"

A nod. "I got home around ten-fifteen. I knew I had some games the next day—five, if we went all the way. Wanted to get some rest. Went to sleep."

"What time did you go in to work?"

"Around three, three-thirty. I punched in. They'll have a record of it."

"And what time did they find your dad?"

"Around ten at night." Graham didn't seem to have a problem with the timing, although to Hardy it invited some questions. If his memory served him, and it always did, Sal had apparently died between one and four o'clock in the afternoon. This was the issue Graham was skirting, which perhaps the police were considering if they were thinking about Graham after all. He would have had plenty of time between one o'clock and when he checked in to work near three.

But the young man was going on. "Judge Giotti, you know. Judge Giotti found him."

"I read. What was he doing there?"

Graham shrugged. "I just know what everybody knows—he'd finished having dinner downtown. He had a fish order in and Sal didn't show, so he thought he'd check the apartment, see if he was okay."

"And why would the judge do that?"

The answer was unforced, Graham recounting old family history. "They were friends. Used to be, anyway, in high school, then college. They played ball together."

"Your father went to college?"

Graham nodded. "It's weird, isn't it? Salmon Sal the college grad. Classic underachiever, that was Sal. Runs in the family." He forced a smile, making a joke, but kept his hands clamped tightly together, leaning forward casually, elbows resting on his knees. His knuckles were white.

"So. Giotti?" Hardy asked. Graham cast his eyes to the floor. "You weren't his clerk, were you?"

The head came back up. Graham said no. He'd clerked for Harold Draper, another federal judge with the Ninth Circuit.

"I guess what I'm asking," Hardy continued, "is whether you and Giotti—him being your dad's old pal and all—developed any kind of relationship while you were clerking."

Graham took a moment, then shook his head. "No. Giotti came by once after I got hired to say congratulations. But these judges don't have a life. I didn't even see him in the halls."

"And how long did you work there?"

"Six months."

Hardy slid from the desk and crossed to his window. "Let me be sure I've got it right," he said. "Draper hired you to become a clerk for the Ninth? How many clerks does he have?"

"Three."

"For a year each?"

"Right. That's the term."

Hardy thought so. He went on. "When I was getting into practice right after the Civil War, a federal clerkship was considered the plum job of all time right out of law school. Is that still the case?"

This brought a small smile. "Everybody seems to think so."

"But you quit after six months so you could try out as a replacement player during the baseball strike?"

Graham sat back finally, unclenched his hands, spread them out. "Arrogant, ungrateful wretch that I am."

"So now everybody in the legal community thinks you're either disloyal or brain dead."

"No, those are my friends." Graham took a beat. "Draper, for example, hates my guts. So do his wife, kids, dogs, the other two clerks, the secretaries—they all really really hate me personally. Everybody else just wishes I'd die soon, as slowly and painfully as possible. Both."

Hardy nodded. "So Giotti didn't call you when he found your dad?"

Graham shook his head. "I'd be the last person he'd call. You walk out on one of these guys, you're a traitor to the whole tribe. That's why I came to you—you're a lawyer who'll talk to me. I think you're the last one who will."

"And you're worried about the police?"

A shrug. "Not really. I don't know. I don't know what they're thinking."

"I doubt they're thinking anything, Graham. They just like to be thorough and ask a lot of questions, which tends to make people nervous. This other stuff with your background might have made the rounds, so they might shake your tree a little harder, see if something falls out."

"Nothing's going to fall out. My dad killed himself."

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Table of Contents

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First Chapter

Dismas Hardy was enjoying a superb round of darts, closing in on what might become a personal best.

He was in his office on a Monday morning, throwing his twenty-gram hand-tooled, custom-flighted tungsten beauties. He called the game "twenty-down" although it wasn't any kind of sanctioned affair. It had begun as simple practice--once around and down the board from "20" to bull's-eye. He'd turned the practice rounds into a game against himself.

His record was twenty-five throws. The best possible round was twenty-one, and now he was shooting at the "3" with his nineteenth dart. A twenty-two was still possible. Beating twenty-five was going to be a lock, assuming his concentration didn't get interrupted.

On his desk the telephone buzzed.



He'd worked downtown at an office on Sutter Street for nearly six years. The rest of the building was home to David Freeman & Associates, a law firm specializing in plaintiffs' personal injury and criminal defense work. But Hardy wasn't one of Freeman's associates. Technically, he didn't work for Freeman at all, although lately almost all of his billable hours had come from a client his landlord had farmed out to him.

Hardy occupied the only office on the top floor of the building. Both literally and figuratively he was on his own.

He held on to his dart and threw an evil eye at the telephone behind him, which buzzed again. To throw now would be to miss. He sat back on the desk, punched a button. "Yo."

Freeman's receptionist, Phyllis, had grown to tolerate, perhaps even like, Hardy, although it was plain that she disapproved of his casual attitude. This was a law firm. Lawyers should answer their phone crisply, with authority and dignity. They shouldn't just pick up and say "Yo."

He took an instant's pleasure in her sigh.

She lowered her voice. "There's a man down here to see you. He doesn't have an appointment." It was the same tone she would have used if the guest had stepped in something on the sidewalk. "He says he knows you from"--a pause while she sought a suitable euphemism. She finally failed and had to come out with the hated truth--"your bar. His name is Graham Russo."

Hardy knew half a dozen Russos--it was a common name in San Francisco--but hearing that Graham from the Little Shamrock was downstairs, presumably in need of a lawyer's services, narrowed it down.

Hardy glanced at his wall calendar. It was Monday, May 12. Sighing, he put his precious dart down on his desk and told Phyllis to send Mr. Russo right on up.

Hardy was standing at his door as Graham trudged up the stairs, a handsome, athletic young guy with the weight of this world on his shoulders. And at least one other world, Hardy knew, that had crashed and burned all around him.

They had met when Graham showed up for a beer at the Shamrock. Over the course of the night Hardy, moonlighting behind the bar, found out a lot about him. Graham, too, was an attorney, although he wasn't practicing right at the moment. The community had blackballed him.

Hardy had had his own run-ins with the legal bureaucracy and knew how devastating the ostracism could be. Hell, even when you were solidly within it, the law life itself was so unrelentingly adversarial that the whole world sometimes took on a hostile aspect.

So the two men had hit it off. Both men were estranged from the law in their own ways. Graham had stayed after last call, helped clean up. He was a sweet kid--maybe a little naive and idealistic, but his head seemed to be on straight. Hardy liked him.

* * *

Before the law Graham's world had been baseball. An All-American center fielder at USF during the late eighties, he'd batted .373 and had been drafted in the sixth round by the Dodgers. He then played two years in the minor leagues, making it to Double-A San Antonio before he'd fouled a ball into his own left eye. That injury had hospitalized him for three weeks, and when he got out, his vision didn't come with him. And so with a lifetime pro average of .327, well on the way to the bigs, he'd had to give it all up.

Rootless and disheartened, he had enrolled in law school at Boalt Hall in Berkeley. Graduating at the top of his class, he beat out intense competition and got hired for a one-year term as a clerk with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. But he only stayed six months.

In early 1994--the year of the baseball strike--about two months after he passed the bar, he quit. He wanted, after all, to play baseball. So he went to Vero Beach, Florida, to try out as a replacement player for the Dodgers.

And he made the team.

At the Shamrock he'd made it clear to Hardy that he'd never have played as a scab. All along, all he'd wanted out of the deal was for the Dodgers to take another look at him. The fuzziness had disappeared from his vision; he was still in great shape. He thought he could shine in spring training, get cut as a replacement when they all did, but at least have a shot at the minors again.

And that's what happened. He started the '94 season with the Albuquerque Dukes, Triple A, farther along the path to the major leagues than he'd been seven years earlier.

But he couldn't find the damn curveball and the new shot at his baseball career, upon which he'd risked everything, lasted only six weeks. His average was .192 when he got cut outright. He hadn't had a hit in his last seven games. Hell, he told Hardy, he would have cut himself.

Graham had a lumberjack's shoulders and the long legs of a high hurdler. Under a wave of golden hair his square-jawed face was clean shaven. Today he wore a gray-blue sport coat over a royal-blue dress shirt, stonewashed jeans, cowboy boots.

He was leaning forward on the front of the upholstered chair in front of Hardy's desk, elbows on his knees. Hardy noticed the hands clasped in front of him--the kind of hands that, when he got older, people would call gnarled--workingman's hands, huge and somehow expressive.

Graham essayed a smile. "I don't even know why I'm here, tell you the truth."

Hardy's face creased. "I often feel the same way myself." He was sitting on the corner of his desk. "Your dad?"

Graham nodded.


Salvatore Russo--Herb Caen's column had dubbed him Salmon Sal and the name had stuck--was recent news. Despondent over poor health, his aging body, and financial ruin, Sal had apparently killed himself last Friday by having a few cocktails, then injecting himself with morphine. He'd left a Do Not Resuscitate form for the paramedics, but he was already dead when they'd arrived.

To the public at large Sal was mostly unknown. But he was well known in San Francisco's legal community. Every Friday Sal would make the rounds of the city's law workshops in an old Ford pickup. Behind the Hall of Justice, where Hardy would see him, he'd park by the hydrant and sell salmon, abalone, sturgeon, caviar, and any other produce of the sea he happened to get his hands on. His customers included cops, federal-, municipal-, and superior-court judges, attorneys, federal marshals, sheriffs, and the staffs at both halls--Justice and City--and at the federal courthouse.

The truck appeared only one day a week, but since Sal's seafood was always fresher and a lot cheaper than at the markets, he apparently made enough to survive, notwithstanding the fact that he did it all illegally.

His salmon had their tails clipped, which meant they had been caught for sport and couldn't be sold. Abalone was the same story; private parties taking abalone for commercial sale had been outlawed for years. His winter-run chinooks had probably been harvested by Native Americans using gill nets. And yet year after year this stuff would appear in Sal's truckbed.

Salmon Sal had no retail license, but it didn't matter because he was connected. His childhood pals knew him from the days when Fisherman's Wharf was a place where men went down to the sea in boats. Now these boys were judges and police lieutenants and heads of departments. They were not going to bust him.

Sal might live on the edge of the law, but the establishment considered him one of the good guys--a character in his yellow scarves and hip boots, the unlit stogie chomped down to its last inch, the gallon bottles from which he dispensed red and white plonk in Dixie cups along with a steady stream of the most politically incorrect jokes to be found in San Francisco.

The day Hardy had met Sal, over a decade ago, he'd been with Abe Glitsky. Glitsky was half black and half Jewish and every inch of him scary looking--a hatchet face and a glowing scar through his lips, top to bottom. Sal had seen him, raised his voice. "Hey, Abe, there's this black guy and this Jew sitting on the top of this building and they both fall off at the same time. Which one hits the ground first?"

"I don't know, Sal," Glitsky answered, "which one?"

"Who cares?"

Now Sal was dead and the newspapers had been rife with conjecture: early evidence indicated that someone had been in the room with him when he'd died. A chair knocked over in the kitchen. Angry sounds. Other evidence of struggle.

The police were calling the death suspicious. Maybe someone had helped Sal die--put him on an early flight.


"I didn't know Sal was your father," Hardy said. "Not until just now."

"Yeah, well. I didn't exactly brag about him." Graham took a breath and looked beyond Hardy, out the window. "The funeral's tomorrow."

When no more words came, Hardy prompted him. "Are you in trouble?"

"No!" A little too quickly, too loud. Graham toned it down some. "No, I don't think so. I don't know why I would be."

Hardy waited some more.

"I mean, there's a lot happening all at once. The estate--although the word estate is a joke. Dad asked me to be his executor although we never got around to drawing up the will, so where does that leave it? Your guess is as good as mine."

"You weren't close, you and your dad?"

Graham took a beat before he answered. "Not very."

Hardy thought the eye contact was a little overdone, but he let it go. He'd see where this all was leading. "So you need help with the estate? What kind of help?"

"That's just it. I don't know what I need. I need help in general." Graham hung his head and shook it, then looked back up. "The cops have been around, asking questions."

"What kind of questions?"

"Where was I on Friday? Did I know about my dad's condition? Like that. It was obvious where they were going." Graham's blue eyes flashed briefly in anger, maybe frustration. "How can they think I know anything about this? My dad killed himself for a lot of good reasons. The guy's disoriented, losing his mind. He's in awesome pain. I'd've done the same thing."

"And what do the police think?"

"I don't know what they can be thinking." Another pause. "I hadn't seen him in a week. First I heard of it was Saturday night. Some homicide cop is at my place when I get home."

"Where'd you get home from?"

"Ball game." He raised his eyes again, spit out the next word. "Softball. We had a tournament in Santa Clara, got eliminated in the fourth game, so I got home early, around six."

"So where were you Friday night?"

Graham spread his Rodin hands. "I didn't kill my dad."

"I didn't ask that. I asked about Friday night."

He let out a breath, calming down. "After work, home."

"Alone?"

He smiled. "Just like the movie. Home alone. I love that answer. The cop liked it, too, but for different reasons. I could tell."

Hardy nodded. "Cops can be tough to please."

"I worked till nine-thirty. . . ."

"What do you do, besides baseball?"

Graham corrected him. "Softball." A shrug. "I've been working as a paramedic since . . . well, lately."

"Okay. So you were riding in an ambulance Friday night?"

A nod. "I got home around ten-fifteen. I knew I had some games the next day--five, if we went all the way. Wanted to get some rest. Went to sleep."

"What time did you go in to work?"

"Around three, three-thirty. I punched in. They'll have a record of it."

"And what time did they find your dad?"

"Around ten at night." Graham didn't seem to have a problem with the timing, although to Hardy it invited some questions. If his memory served him, and it always did, Sal had apparently died between one and four o'clock in the afternoon. This was the issue Graham was skirting, which perhaps the police were considering if they were thinking about Graham after all. He would have had plenty of time between one o'clock and when he checked in to work near three.

But the young man was going on. "Judge Giotti, you know. Judge Giotti found him."

"I read. What was he doing there?"

Graham shrugged. "I just know what everybody knows--he'd finished having dinner downtown. He had a fish order in and Sal didn't show, so he thought he'd check the apartment, see if he was okay."

"And why would the judge do that?"

The answer was unforced, Graham recounting old family history. "They were friends. Used to be, anyway, in high school, then college. They played ball together."

"Your father went to college?"

Graham nodded. "It's weird, isn't it? Salmon Sal the college grad. Classic underachiever, that was Sal. Runs in the family." He forced a smile, making a joke, but kept his hands clamped tightly together, leaning forward casually, elbows resting on his knees. His knuckles were white.

"So. Giotti?" Hardy asked. Graham cast his eyes to the floor. "You weren't his clerk, were you?"

The head came back up. Graham said no. He'd clerked for Harold Draper, another federal judge with the Ninth Circuit.

"I guess what I'm asking," Hardy continued, "is whether you and Giotti--him being your dad's old pal and all--developed any kind of relationship while you were clerking."

Graham took a moment, then shook his head. "No. Giotti came by once after I got hired to say congratulations. But these judges don't have a life. I didn't even see him in the halls."

"And how long did you work there?"

"Six months."

Hardy slid from the desk and crossed to his window. "Let me be sure I've got it right," he said. "Draper hired you to become a clerk for the Ninth? How many clerks does he have?"

"Three."

"For a year each?"

"Right. That's the term."

Hardy thought so. He went on. "When I was getting into practice right after the Civil War, a federal clerkship was considered the plum job of all time right out of law school. Is that still the case?"

This brought a small smile. "Everybody seems to think so."

"But you quit after six months so you could try out as a replacement player during the baseball strike?"

Graham sat back finally, unclenched his hands, spread them out. "Arrogant, ungrateful wretch that I am."

"So now everybody in the legal community thinks you're either disloyal or brain dead."

"No, those are my friends." Graham took a beat. "Draper, for example, hates my guts. So do his wife, kids, dogs, the other two clerks, the secretaries--they all really really hate me personally. Everybody else just wishes I'd die soon, as slowly and painfully as possible. Both."

Hardy nodded. "So Giotti didn't call you when he found your dad?"

Graham shook his h
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 19, 2009

    Good Reading!

    I enjoyed this book as I have previous Lescroart books. This one was a little drawn out in the middle but overall it was a good read. Nice twist with the who-done-it. --K--

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  • Posted March 23, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    If it were your Dad, what would you do?

    Lescroart scores again with the Mercy Rule. Was it a case of a son helping his father avoid losing his mind from Alzheimers? Or was there something more sinister afoot? Dismas Hardy digs in and unravels the complexities of the relationship between father and son. Along the way we have to give pause to consider whether assisted suicide is a mercy or whether it's just plain murder.
    Lescroart's characters are rich, multi dimensional and don't require the ego of Patterson's Alex Cross or the weirdness of Tannenbaum's Karp family. Dismas' character stands on his own along with Abe Glitsky in the pursuit of justice in it's multi-layers. Lescroart leaves you guessing, makes you think and goes beyond the traditional "whodunnit".

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 14, 2000

    A great book!

    This was the first Lescroart book I read. Thirty days later I had read them all. This book makes you think hard about assisted suicide while weaving a murder(?) and great characters together. Read this one then get started on his others.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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