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From Barnes & NobleHere's one of the pleasanter surprises of the newly arrived millennium: a courtroom drama by first-time novelist Sheldon Siegel that is written with the style, savvy, and narrative ingenuity of a seasoned professional. The novel is called Special Circumstances, and it's one of the numerous progeny of Scott Turow's landmark legal thriller, Presumed Innocent. While it isn't as impressive as its primary model, it does bear comparison to some of the more memorable products of the post-Turow boom in legal fiction, novels such as John Lescroart's The 13th Juror and J. F. Freedman's Against the Wind. That, in itself, is no small compliment.
Special Circumstances is an account of murder, corruption, and corporate malfeasance in the San Francisco law firm of Simpson and Gates. (Think about that name for a minute.) The narrator -- and hero -- is Michael Daley, a former priest turned criminal defense attorney who has spent the last five years working for Simpson and Gates and has just been fired for failing to meet the firm's stringent standards of productivity. Daley's wry, caustic observations form the bedrock of this immensely entertaining novel, which effectively illuminates the inner workings of a high-stakes, high-pressure corporate law firm with "a license to print money."
As Special Circumstances opens, the Simpson and Gates fiscal year is winding down, and ominous signs are beginning to appear. A number of scheduled promotions are suddenly canceled. Bonuses for all employees below the rank of partner are summarily withheld. Rumors of financial instability begin to proliferate. Against a backdrop of innuendo and corporate unrest, an unexpected tragedy occurs. Two of S & G's attorneys -- one an attractive young woman, the other a senior partner with a reputation for philandering -- are found shot to death, apparent victims of a classic murder/suicide.
Subsequent investigation indicates that both attorneys were, in fact, murdered. For a number of reasons, suspicion ultimately falls on S & G associate attorney Joel Friedman, who had argued violently with both victims just hours before their deaths and who -- according to various sources -- had been sexually involved with one of them, the beautiful -- and pregnant -- Diana Kennedy. When Prentice "Skipper" Gates, former head of S & G and newly elected district attorney of San Francisco, charges Friedman with the killings, Mike Daley comes to Friedman's defense, inaugurating his career in private practice with a controversial, high-profile murder case.
The bulk of Special Circumstances -- a phrase, by the way, that is legal shorthand for crimes punishable by death -- describes the convoluted progress of the ensuing trial, which evolves, inevitably, into a first class media event. Deliberately, with great authority and an instinctive sense of drama, Siegel shows us the step-by-step process by which a highly circumstantial murder case is slowly, incrementally developed. Forensic evidence; eyewitness testimony; personal, sexual, and financial histories; corporate politics; hidden agendas; windows of opportunity; a variety of motives both theoretical and real -- all of these elements, and many others, are presented, dissected, interpreted, and disputed in one of the most persuasive, rigorously created fictional trials of recent years, a trial whose outcome remains uncertain until the closing pages.
Special Circumstances is simultaneously a courtroom drama, a murder mystery, an examination of the legal profession at its best and worst, and a complex presentation of characters caught at critical moments in their personal and professional lives. At the heart of it all stands Michael Daley: a decent man, a gifted advocate, and a chronic underachiever who has drifted aimlessly through the central passages of his life. After unsuccessfully adopting a series of identities -- as priest, husband, public defender, corporate attorney -- he finds, in the Friedman trial, an occasion he can finally rise to. The movement of the trial toward its dramatic, hard-earned resolution parallels Daley's own progress toward a coherent, if provisional, accommodation with the circumstances of his own life.
Special Circumstances marks the debut of a notably gifted new writer. Siegel writes with passion, intelligence, and an easy good humor that move his complex narrative forward at breakneck speed. He is, on the evidence available so far, a natural storyteller and a welcome addition to the constantly expanding ranks of Lawyers Who Also Write. Readers who admire Turow and Grisham should take this novel to their hearts. Special Circumstances is the real thing, and comes highly recommended to anyone with an interest in legal thrillers, novels of suspense, and involving, expertly constructed fiction of any sort.||||||||