cover image Violent Ward

Violent Ward

Len Deighton / Author HarperCollins Publishers $23 (305p) ISBN

Deighton's latest, an enjoyable departure from his tales of British espionage ( City of Gold , etc.), introduces a protagonist with definite series potential. Harried L.A. lawyer Mickey Murphy is plagued by a slew of eccentrics who fully bear out the book's epigraph: ``If America is a lunatic asylum then California is the Violent Ward.'' Among them are an ex-wife who tries to get more alimony by perching on the ledge outside his office, a slightly over-the-hill actor in search of a handgun, a Robert Maxwell clone called Sir Jeremy Westbridge and a Trump-like entrepreneur named Zach Petrovich, who owns Murphy's law firm and is married to his high school sweetheart. Their maneuverings spark a complicated plot whose many ramifications include a charitable organization that doubles as a clearinghouse for those seeking to fake their own deaths and the set-up of a tax-free Peruvian corporation through the use of bearer shares, but Murphy keeps all the craziness in perspective with a first-person narration that unfolds as a series of quiet, subtle surprises. Told in perfect Dashiell Hammett style, with the clues all noted but never underlined, this novel respects the reader's intelligence and almost begs for a rereading just to savor how skillfully Deighton has woven everything together. Author tour. (July)