After focusing on gun control and tort reform (in Balance of Power ) and late-term abortion and Supreme Court nomination (in Protect and Defend ), Patterson takes on the death penalty, exploring its uncertainties and injustices from the perspective of San Francisco lawyer Christopher Paget—hero of the author's first book, The Lasko Tangent —and Paget's lawyer wife, Terri. The horrific crime on which the novel hinges is the killing of nine-year-old Thuy Sen, whose body is found in San Francisco Bay. The medical examiner quickly ascertains that the little girl did not drown but choked to death on semen. After Thuy Sen's picture is broadcast on television, an elderly eyewitness identifies her dope-dealer neighbors Payton and Rennell Price as the killers. This story is told in flashback after Terri Paget, who specializes in representing death row inmates, takes on the 15-year-old case, representing Rennell, who has 59 days before he is to die by lethal injection. Rennell is a hulking retarded black man whose sullen passivity inspires little sympathy in anyone. Over the next several months, Teresa comes to believe in Rennell as she fights not only to stop his execution but to prove him innocent. It's a compelling story, but Patterson's true interest is in the legal details. He mostly succeeds at explaining the often Orwellian legal complexities of the death penalty, but the price he pays as a novelist is high. Many readers will skip over vast sections of the book, but those who stick with it will find the ending moving and come away with a greater understanding of a controversial issue. (Feb. 1)
Forecast: Patterson still carries enough reader clout to put this one on the bestseller lists, but he comes very close to presenting material too dense to hold the attention of a large popular audience.
Release date: 01/01/2005