cover image Just Cause

Just Cause

John Katzenbach. Putnam Publishing Group, $22.95 (431pp) ISBN 978-0-399-13626-9

The criminal mind, racial bias, journalistic ego and the flawed fabric of the American criminal justice system are potent raw materials for psychological suspense master Katzenbach ( The Travelers ) in this riveting, provocative story. Matthew Cowart is lonely since his divorce and bored with writing editorials for the Miami newspaper where he was once an ace crime reporter. Then he receives a letter from a black inmate of Florida's death row, Robert Earl Ferguson, who claims he is innocent of the crime for which he has been convicted, the raping and slashing of a young white girl. On Ferguson's promise to reveal the identity of the real killer, Cowart spearheads a crusade that frees Ferguson and names another inmate, Blair Sullivan, as the murderer. Cowart wins a Pulitzer for his efforts, but his celebration is short-lived. Sullivan gives the reporter a pre-execution confession, and Cowart discovers that he has been duped. Black homicide detective Tanny Brown convinces Cowart to team up against the killer who has outmaneuvered them both. The horror of psychopathic murder and the limitations of the legal system become clear as the pair jousts with the killer on his own turf. Despite some extraneous subplots, the story generally proceeds at a breakneck pace, enhanced by ear-perfect dialogue and complex characterization. Film rights to Warner; major ad/promo. (Feb.)