Kate Wilhelm, Author . St. Martin's/Minotaur $24.95 (384p) ISBN 978-0-312-27663-8

Wilhelm's sixth Barbara Holloway legal thriller (after No Defense and Defense for the Devil) sustains her reputation as a fine stylist who is able to craft compelling plots and characters. Holloway's latest client is a brilliant young man named Alex Feldman, who has been left hideously deformed by a birth defect. He is accused of killing his next-door neighbor, Gus Marchand, a tyrannical religious zealot who saw Alex's deformity as the mark of the devil. There is little evidence against him, but Marchand has created such hostility and fear toward Alex in their small, rural community that it seems likely he will be convicted on the basis of his appearance alone. What makes his situation even more desperate is that he was born with part of his brain exposed: since any blow to the head might kill him, a prison term probably would be a death sentence. But did Alex do it? There is a real possibility (which Alex himself admits) that he is psychopathic, but he wasn't the only one with a motive: the high school principal was also at odds with Marchand, and she is a close friend of Frank Holloway, Barbara's father and mentor. This is a real puzzler in which the smallest clues are important. Readers are given all the necessary facts and Alex is an excellent character. Wilhelm does a good job of conveying his anguish and isolation, and doesn't skimp on rounding out other characters, including Dr. Graham Minick, Alex's friend and protector. The book begins and ends well, although it often fails to sustain velocity in between. Wilhelm's fans probably won't be disappointed, as its many good points outnumber the bad. (July 23)

Reviewed on: 06/25/2001
Release date: 07/01/2001
Genre: Fiction
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