Joseph T. Klempner, Author . St. Martin's Minotaur $23.95 (259p) ISBN 978-0-312-31067-7

Klempner (Irreparable Damage ) combines courtroom maneuverings, reality TV and amateur sleuthing in ways that at first seem predictable but are in fact quite subtle in this sterling legal whodunit, with its courageous and memorable hero. When the clever folks at Trial TV decide to pry octogenarian judge August Jorgensen out of retirement to argue a hopeless death penalty case before the Supreme Court, they get much more than they bargained for. Jorgensen is a staunch opponent of the death penalty, but he's also happily retired in a decommissioned lighthouse on a New Jersey barrier island and not eager to re-enter service. However, the case of Wesley Boyd Davies, who is due to be executed by the state of Virginia for a young girl's rape and murder after the appeal process has been exhausted, has an irresistible hook. The thin legal grounds Jorgensen is supposed to defend before the Supreme Court aren't strong enough for him, so he decides to do a little exploring on his own. The autistic Davies is unable to participate in his own defense, his only means of communication, and an iffy one at that, being the extraordinary drawings he sometimes produces. The present nine Supreme Court justices play themselves in the nail-biter of a denouement. Jorgensen, with his dog, Jake, and his catboat, which he sails singlehandedly, comes across as a credible and engaging character. A former defense attorney, Klempner deftly handles the death penalty issue at the heart of this highly entertaining novel. Agent, Bob Diforio. (Nov. 24)

Reviewed on: 10/20/2003
Release date: 11/01/2003
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