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The Trials of Nikki Hill

Overview

When TV presenter Maddie Gray's body is found dumped in gangland LA, the police arrest a young black man found at the scene with Maddie's ring in his pocket. For Nikki Hill, an ambitious Afro-American attorney, it is a make-or-break case.

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The Trials of Nikki Hill

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Overview

When TV presenter Maddie Gray's body is found dumped in gangland LA, the police arrest a young black man found at the scene with Maddie's ring in his pocket. For Nikki Hill, an ambitious Afro-American attorney, it is a make-or-break case.

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Editorial Reviews

Cynthia Sanz
What may come as a surprise...is just how entertaining an author he can be....Darden makes good use of his own extraordinary experiences in re-creating the roller-coaster ridr of handling a big case... —People Magazine
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Not surprisingly, this solid collaboration between ex-prosecutor Darden (In Contempt) and mystery novelist Lochte (Neon Smile) is about a high-profile murder case as seen by the Los Angeles D.A.'s office--but it's not about that high-profile murder case. Young, brilliant black prosecutor Nikki Hill, exiled to Compton after her 15 minutes of legal fame, is recalled to L.A. to become special assistant to District Attorney Joe Walden when the naked body of TV gossipmonger Maddie Gray is found in an alley dumpster and street punk Jamal Deschamps is caught stealing a diamond ring from the corpse. Case closed, or so it seems. But it turns out that Jamal, the obvious suspect, was chased into that alley by a gang called the Crazy Eights, and that the dead woman was blackmailing celebrities--including one who was last seen with her the day she died. As if taking cues from the TV series Law and Order, the plot unfolds both in the DA's office and through the murder investigation, the latter hampered by disappearing evidence and a leak inside the police department. Nikki also has a suspicious new boyfriend, whose advent into her life coincides with anonymous telephone reminders of a guilty secret. This is a sturdily built crime novel, written in a sharp, cinema-friendly style in which the good news (every scene reveals another kink in the complex plot) is balanced by the bad (the puzzle-pieces are often far-flung and less than revelatory). The ending strains credulity, but for the most part Darden and Lochte lead a stimulating investigation into the intersections, and racial tensions, among the dispossessed, the wealthy and a legal system that purports to dispense justice to both in equal measure.
Library Journal
Yes, that's O.J. Simpson prosecutor Darden. He joins forces with mystery writer Lochte to craft the story of an African American district attorney named Nikki Hill, who discovers that an open-and-shut case of murder involving gorgeous TV star Maddy Gray is not so open and shut.
Entertainment Weekly
...[D]ialogue and characterization that keeps you caring about the players...
Cynthia Sanz
What may come as a surprise...is just how entertaining an author he can be....Darden makes good use of his own extraordinary experiences in re-creating the roller-coaster ridr of handling a big case...
People Magazine
Kirkus Reviews
O.J. Simpson assistant prosecutor Darden teams up with suspense writer Lochte (The Neon Smile) for this earnest, shapeless tale of-what else? A stand-up deputy D.A. fighting for truth and justice in the jungles of Los Angeles. When the D.A.'s office finds the diamond ring that lately graced the finger of TV interviewer/gossip columnist Maddie Gray in the pocket of Jamal Deschamps, the South Central homeboy found fleeing from the alley where Maddie's nude body has been dumped, they waste no time prosecuting the bejesus out of him. Nikki Hill, the deputy D.A. who's just been recalled from a slow-death posting out in Compton, has a bad feeling about this case, but her boss, D.A. Joe Walden, orders a full-court press, and the race is on between the prosecutors and Jesse Fallon, the high-powered attorney who takes over Jamal's defense. In no time, Jamal's proved an alibi, and Walden & Co. are back to go. Wilting under the hostile TV lights, Walden demands another arrest, and the lucky number goes to Dyana Cooper Willins, a movie star married to a top music CEO. Even though there's solid evidence that Dyana attacked Maddie (in self-defense? in an attempt to wrestle her blackmail folder away from the blackmailer?) with something an awful lot like the murder weapon, the stakes for two potentially wrongful prosecutions of African-Americans in the City of Angels are enormous. Darden and Lochte powerfully convey the desperation of a D.A.'s office under pressure to do something without any clear idea of what the something should be, and the infighting among prosecutors, politicians, and the police that hamstring the investigation. What they don't do is bring any order to the investigation, orcreate characters-except for Nikki, your standard Wonder Woman with a troubled background-who stay in the memory longer than a news story. The result is an ant farm full of bustling but anonymous movement, a sociological primer that would take the skills of Tom Wolfe to turn it into a novel. "Trials" is right.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780446523264
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 7/31/2008
  • Pages: 448
  • Product dimensions: 9.00 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 1.13 (d)

Read an Excerpt



Chapter One


Nikki Hill awoke to colored lights dancing on her bedroom ceiling.

She raised her head high enough to glimpse a youthful Marlo Thomas on the silent TV, wearing a Peter Pan collar and a worried expression. Just what I need, she thought as she flopped back against the pillow, a white-bread night-light.

She was suddenly puzzled. If the TV sound is off, what am I doing awake?

As if in answer, the phone rang.

With a groan she shifted on the bed, sending Witkin on Criminal Law, Volume 5 and several Manila folders and their contents tumbling to the carpet. Her "Liar For Hire" T-shirt, a joke gift that she perversely embraced, was sticking clammily to her body. At least she hadn't fallen asleep in her good clothes again.

The phone rang once more.

As she reached for it on the bedside table, she saw the time glowing on her radio alarm: 3:47 a.m. She cleared her throat. "This better be an emergency," she warned her caller.

"Nikki?"

The voice sounded vaguely familiar. "Yeah?" she replied warily.

"Joe Walden." It was her boss, the district attorney for the county of Los Angeles. "Sorry to wake you, but this is an emergency."

Her head was fuzzy. "Uh . . . right," she managed to reply, feeling a little embarrassed, as if he'd caught her doing something weird. Like getting a night's sleep. She turned on the bedside lamp, then grabbed the TV remote to send Marlo back to nostalgia heaven.

"You okay?" he asked.

"Sure."

Something caught her eye&#151Bird, framed in the doorway, observing her curiously, black curls obscuring part of his dark handsome face.

Nikki winked at himas Walden asked, "You familiar with Madeleine Gray?"

"Uh . . . sure," Nikki said. Her mouth had that dry, sucking-up-smog-all-night ashy aftertaste. "On TV. Big Viking of a woman. Whiter than rice with a mess of blond hair. Does gossip news. Interviews. Not exactly Barbara Walters."

"Lucky for Ms. Walters," District Attorney Walden said dryly. "Maddie Gray's big white naked body was found in a Dumpster in South Central a few hours ago."

Nikki forgot about the early hour, morning mouth, and nearly everything else except the voice on the other end of the phone.

"A suspect was apprehended near the corpse," Walden was saying. "They're getting ready to interrogate him."

Bird approached the bed, yawning.

"A couple million people watched Maddie Gray every night," Walden said. "The media jackals are going to dine large on this one. It's got everything. Sex. Drugs. Showbiz. I want you to get down to Parker Center ASAP and keep tabs on Homicide's progress."

She didn't know Walden very well. She couldn't imagine why he'd phoned her&#151a midlevel deputy D.A. who'd been stalled at Grade 3 for three long years in Compton, the Siberia of the district attorney's office. But she wasn't about to question his decision. Any prosecutor with an ounce of ambition would slit both wrists for a chance to rub up against a high-profile case like this one. Nikki had more than an ounce.

"I'm your man," she said, trying not to giggle as Bird touched his tongue to a bare brown foot he discovered sticking out from under the covers.

"Good," Walden said. "I hope I'm not, ah, taking you away from anything . . . more pressing."

"What could be more pressing?" Nikki replied, reaching out a hand to grab Bird's curly head.

"Yes, well, as soon as you know something, I want to know it, too. Okay?"

"Okay," she said, scowling at the clock radio.

"Oh, and should the detectives handling the case wonder what you're doing there, tell them you're my special assistant. Assuming you're okay with that title."

It took a moment for her to realize she was being promoted. Not a major promotion&#151probably wouldn't mean more money&#151but it was a step up, and it made her feel the time she'd spent in Compton hadn't been wasted. "No, sir, no objection at all. Thank you."

Bird, who was not used to a subservient tone in her voice, gave her a questioning look.

"We'll see if you're still thanking me by the time this all shakes out," Walden said.

She replaced the phone, exhilarated. "Guess who's just been appointed the special assistant to the district attorney?" she asked Bird happily.

Bird yawned again, unimpressed. He didn't really get the gist of her question. Though he understood nearly fifty words, the only ones he really reacted to were "food," "walk," and "cat," and, of course, the special commands. He was a Bouvier des Flandres, a coal-black Belgian sheepdog weighing eighty pounds, much of it muscle. The full name on his papers read Charlie "Yardbird" Parker.

He had been the bequest of the only man Nikki had ever loved, and she couldn't look at him without thinking of his departed owner. Tony Black. She smiled wistfully. "Tall as pine, black as crow, talk more shit than radio."

Her first thought had been to find Bird another home. At the time, she'd been in no condition to assume the responsibility for a large animal who demanded a certain amount of attention. Especially one who would be a constant reminder of all that she'd lost. Something about Bird&#151her best friend, Loreen Battles, said he looked like a beautiful holy man in a dog suit&#151kept her from giving him up. In fact, Bird had helped her through that difficult period of mourning, had been a protector and companion and, on those long, lonely nights when she felt she had to talk to someone or she would freak completely, a doggy shrink.

That had been four years ago. Now, she could hardly remember what her life had been like before she began sharing it with the lovable, loyal, hardheaded, territorial, demanding beast who obviously adored her.

Bird was digging his nose into the skirt she'd dropped on the floor the night before. She grabbed it from him. "It's messed up enough without you slobberin' on it, fuzzball," she said.

He cocked his huge head to one side, staring&#151critically, she imagined&#151at the other clothes sharing the carpet with law books and files and scattered newspapers and magazines. "Okay, so I ain't Martha Stewart," she said, slipping her feet into her tatty but comfortable old Bugs Bunny slippers. "You're not exactly Lassie."

Bird followed along devotedly as she padded her way through the dark, mainly unfurnished ranch-style house they'd moved into only months before. It was much too big for just the two of them, about four times the size of her old apartment. But Nikki had always dreamed of moving up to this particular location&#151Ladera Heights, the black Beverly Hills. The deal had been one she hadn't been able to refuse. The Asian couple who'd purchased the place sight unseen had taken one glance at the cemetery just down the hill and raced away in search of better karma. Essentially, all Nikki had to do was take over the monthly notes.

She looked out of the kitchen window and smiled at the tombstones. "Roll them bones," she said, remembering the depressing little one-bedroom apartment that she and Bird had been sharing next door to the dangerous neighborhood known as the Jungle.

She left the window and turned on the sound system that the builder had thoughtfully wired into every room in the house. An all-news station was providing a litany of the previous night's tragedies. Fires, wrecks, robberies, drive-bys, carjackings. Murders. She wondered when Madeleine Gray would make the list.

Bird emitted his "feed me" yelp and Nikki responded quickly. Though most of the house was barren of furnishings, the kitchen was filled with enough pots, pans, gadgets, and instruments to pass for a Williams-Sonoma showroom. This was the result of a six-night cooking class taught by a local celebrity chef that Loreen Battles had dragged her to. "You know what they say about a man's stomach leading the way to his heart," Loreen had said.

While Nikki had never put much stock in that stomach theory, she'd gone along with her friend. And discovered the joy of cooking. Ever since childhood, however, she'd had a tendency toward obsessive behavior. Great for her career. Less great for real life. In this case it had resulted in an awesome collection of rarely used cookware that ran the gamut from a fuzzy-logic rice steamer to an Italian espresso machine so medieval it made only one perfect cup at a time.

She used her state-of-the-art Scandinavian can opener to trim the lid from a tin of the special food the vet had recommended for Bird's diverticulosis, plopped most of the can's contents into his bowl, and topped it off with a flea pill. While Nikki would have to be at death's door to see a doctor, Bird visited the veterinarian on an almost bimonthly basis.

One ear tuned to the news, Nikki carried the food and a water bowl out to the patio. The animal would have to dine outside and perform whatever daily rituals he found necessary without her assistance. She had no time for their usual morning workout.

She returned to the kitchen, set the glistening chrome and glass coffeepot to perking, took one final loving look at Bird hungrily devouring his food, and said, "Now for the hard stuff."

The bright bathroom light made her wince. Her image in the mirror above the washbasin made her wince even more. Her light brown face with its freckled, full cheekbones was puffy and pillow-wrinkled. Her dark brown eyes, which Bird's master used to rhapsodize over, were bloodshot. Her thick black hair vaguely resembled an unpruned shrub.

Damn, she thought. I don't need a shower. I need that fountain at Lourdes.

The shower helped.

Nothing else seemed to.

No time for a curling iron. Her last clean panty hose looked like a cougar had been pawing it. The cream for the coffee had curdled. Bird's flea pill was resting at the bottom of his empty bowl, untouched. And the four-fifteen news summary informed the world that "the battered body of television star Madeleine Gray was found several hours ago in an alley in South Central Los Angeles. The police have not released any further information, but we'll try to have more for you at five a.m."

Nikki knew that by five she'd better have discovered that information firsthand. After anxiously consulting her watch, she tracked Bird down in the yard and force-fed him the pill he'd avoided. Then she was on her way.

Her loyal Mazda RX7, as dependable as always, started right up. And, at four-twenty on the warm, dark Monday morning, she was zooming toward downtown L.A. along nearly deserted streets, confident she'd be on the job within minutes. That's when she noticed the gas gauge was on empty.

She swung into a service station. Only when she was parked did she realize this was one of the more dangerous stretches along Crenshaw Boulevard, particularly at this time of the morning. She placed her black coffee on the dashboard, tried to ignore the abrasive rub of her shoes against her bare heels, and removed her credit card from her briefcase. She hesitated, gave the area a quick scan, then took out her police special, too.

She was anxiously pumping gas when the man approached her. Another of the city's homeless population, she thought. Grizzled, grimy, ageless, and apparently aimless.

"You up kinda early, sistah," he said.

She casually dropped her right hand from the pump and slipped it into her pocket, wrapping her fingers around the gun grip.

"Don't worry, sistah," he said quickly, holding up empty palms and keeping his distance. "Juppy don't mean no harm, specially to a fine-looking woman like yourself."

Great, she thought. On top of everything, she was getting hit on by some raggedy-ass homeless man.

"Gals your colorin' we useta call Red," Juppy told her. "'Cause they redbone. Bet they calls you Red, huh?"

"No." It was a lie. Even her father had, back in the days when they were speaking. Maybe that's why she hated the nickname so. "And don't you, either."

The Mazda's tank was far from filled, but the man made her uncomfortable and she'd pumped enough gas to get to the office and back. She replaced the nozzle, keeping an eye on Juppy.

As she got into her car, he said, "'Scuse me for saying it, but you got a lovely ass."

"Oh? You don't think it's too round?" she asked sarcastically.

"Hey, can't be too round," he said, stepping closer to her open window. "You look like you a happenin' woman. Goin' up in the world. Juppy been up there, too. Think maybe you can spare Juppy a li'l somethin' somethin', sistah?" He held out his hand.

"I'm not your sister, Juppy," she said, staring into his surprisingly clear brown eyes. He was right about her being on her way up. The thought made her feel magnanimous enough to take a couple of dollars from her wallet and hand them to him. "Here's your somethin' somethin'."

"Thank you for your gen'rosity," he said. "You won't regret it, Red."

Damn, she hated that name. "I'm regretting it already," she said, jamming her foot on the gas pedal.

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