cover image Naked Justice

Naked Justice

William Bernhardt. Ballantine Books, $22 (416pp) ISBN 978-0-345-38685-4

Wallace Barrett is a former star college quarterback with an acting background who is now the first black mayor of Tulsa, Okla. In the prologue of Bernhardt's sixth Ben Kincaid novel (after Cruel Justice), the Barrett family visits the local Baskin-Robbins; a few hours later, everyone except Wallace is dead, and Wallace is the obvious suspect. Caroline appears to have been the classic abused wife, while the couple's two young daughters seem to have been caught up in a violent marital feud. As Wallace's attorney, Ben is forced to grapple with some very familiar snags in the case: there is a nationally televised highway chase, a contaminated crime scene, a bloody shoe print and a jury selection fraught with questions of racial bias. Bernhardt tries to make the story his own with a final plot twist based on an unknown piece of information about a vasectomy and a pregnancy. He also tries to invest the novel with some freshness by way of two subplots. One deals with Ben's single parenting of his young nephew during his sister's apparent disappearance; the other concerns a myasterious stalker who plagues Ben via letter bombs, a car chase and e-mail (there's little surprise, however, when the stalker's identity is revealed). At the end of the novel, Ben appears to abandon the law, but this intriguing turn toward character and away from the headlines comes far too late to redeem this legal thriller from its too obvious echoes of an all too familiar trial. Author tour. (Feb.)