The Perfect Witness

Barry Siegel, Author
Barry Siegel, Author Ballantine Books $24 (352p) ISBN 978-0-345-41307-9
Reviewed on: 12/01/1997
Release date: 12/01/1997
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-7871-1693-4
Mass Market Paperbound - 339 pages - 978-0-345-43084-7
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-0-345-48514-4
Downloadable Audio - 978-1-4498-7892-4
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Los Angeles Times reporter Siegel makes a bumpy but ultimately successful transition from true crime (A Death in White Bear Lake) to fiction in a novel that reads like two separate but wildly unequal legal thrillers. In the book's first, rather listless part, legal eagle Greg Monarch fails to save his down-and-out former law partner, Ira Sullivan, when sociopathic femme fatale Sandy Polson accuses him of murdering the postmaster in the central California town of La Graciosa. In the gripping, emotionally charged second section of the book, Monarch delves into the corruption behind Polson's tainted testimony and forces a retrial, destroying the lives of several prominent government officials in the process. The villains include a corrupt DA, a morally ambiguous detective and several corporate types from a local nuclear plant who seek to pin the murder on Sullivan after his watchdog legal activities threaten to expose the plant's environmental hazards. Siegel conveys a strong sense of place, and he convincingly captures the conflict between flagging idealism and hard reality in his protagonists, most of whom are middle-aged. Several of the plot twists are genuinely surprising, but the author asks readers to wade through quite a bit of mundane prose to get to the final payoff. The pace of the early material mars this otherwise compelling debut. (Jan.)
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