Joseph T. Klempner, Author . St. Martin's/Dunne $24.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-312-28303-2

The first third of this psychological thriller reads like a subpar true-crime book—it is, in fact, based on actual events—but eventually Klempner (Flat Lake in Winter) unspools a mind-bending tale of frustration, injustice and false accusation that is chillingly plausible. One night, during his six-year-old daughter Penny's bath, single dad Stephen Barrow snaps a few photos of his giggling child. Just as he takes the last shot, Penny playfully turns around and bends over. Barrow drops the film off for developing, but when the processor sees the final picture, she becomes outraged and calls 911. This sets in motion a nightmare series of events that strips Barrow not only of Penny and his freedom, but of his dignity, identity and even his sense of the true nature of his relationship with his precocious daughter. Aided by scruffy, smalltown attorney Flynt Adams and eventual love interest Theresa Mulholland, a crusading reporter, Barrow learns that in such cases the accused is guilty until proven innocent. Even worse, an underhanded DA, a therapist (who is a paid consultant for the prosecution) and Penny's bitter mother are all coaching Penny to lie. Although marred by amateurish writing—Klempner never met a cliché he didn't like, and he provides full backgrounds for even the most minor characters—the book struggles out of its pedestrian opening chapters and develops tension and suspense as circumstance, coincidence and ineptitude conspire to prevent justice from being served. The surprise ending is straight out of The Bonfire of the Vanities, but gratifying nonetheless. Agent, Bob Diforio. Author tour. (June)

Reviewed on: 04/08/2002
Release date: 06/01/2002
Mass Market Paperbound - 320 pages - 978-0-312-98826-5
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