Despite elements that strain belief, Chicago attorney Ellis's debut succeeds as a wicked courtroom thriller featuring a devious main character who finds ways to manipulate the legal system to suit his needs. Investment banker Marty Kalish stands accused of killing Dr. Derrick Reinhardt, whose abused wife, Rachel, was Kalish's lover. Kalish, the police allege, shot Reinhardt so he could have Rachel all to himself as well as put an end to her physical torment. A devilishly subversive thinker, Kalish hires the best lawyers in town, asks them what his strongest defense would be, then fashions his explanation for the killing to suit that strategy. His tactics work well until it becomes apparent that the police and prosecutors are not quite as gullible as he expects them to be. No problem. Kalish simply changes his story, adding another twist involving one of Reinhardt's neighbors. In the end, Kalish finds out that even more cunning minds than his were churning away as he scrambled to convince the jury of his version of events. Ellis's fine use of the first-person narrative brings out the full flavor of Kalish's personality and helps drive the plot into areas of character where courtroom thrillers rarely venture. He stretches credibility at a few points--for example, Kalish, who faces the death penalty, is allowed to remain free throughout his trial--but the exciting payoff proves ample compensation. (Feb. 19) Forecast: Ellis comes on strong here, writing a twisty, spellbinding story with a subtext: that our legal system is vulnerable to producing results that defy both logic and the facts. Expect healthy sales from thriller readers eager for a fresh voice and a cynical point of view--if they are alerted that Ellis offers those in spades.