The Last Defense , when he's assigned to defend a cop ac"/>

LAWLESS

Christopher A. Darden, Author, Dick Lochte, Author . NAL $24.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-451-21109-5

It's another tough case for ambitious young lawyer Mercer Early, who first appeared in 2002's The Last Defense , when he's assigned to defend a cop accused of killing his lover. Plot-wise, Darden and Lochte's crackerjack crime yarn offers an embarrassment of riches. As the book begins, Mercer, a junior partner in "the most powerful black law firm on the West Coast," is confidently defending an inner-city youth on trial for murdering a police officer, while mentoring two of the firm's promising new lawyers. His relentless multitasking sets a breakneck pace, which the authors skillfully maintain, telling the story in short, splintered chapters from a handful of perspectives, including that of veteran African-American cop Joe Mooney. Joe fends off the sexual advances of his cute new partner, Emmylou, and narrowly avoids death in a shootout, only to be framed later for the murder of his wife, who dies in a suspicious fire at their home. It's the third recent case of a cop allegedly killing a loved one. Cop Dwight Baskin was the first (he goes down in an explosive prologue) and then there's Mercer's client, Eldon Nunez, an officer with a heretofore spotless record, accused of killing his gay lover, architect Landers Pope. Nunez's bizarre mood swings and the confluence of crimes send Mercer and company probing in unusual directions. Packed with conflict and colorful characters, this story has many twists, some of which are implausible. But it's written with all the grit and professional savvy one would expect from the authors. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 12/08/2003
Release date: 01/01/2004
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