cover image Reign in Hell

Reign in Hell

William Diehl. Ballantine, $5.99 (437pp) ISBN 978-0-345-41144-0

There's scarcely a courtroom in sight in Diehl's boisterous third Martin Vail novel (Primal Fear; Show of Evil). But the hotshot attorney is still fighting for justice, this time as a U.S. assistant attorney general appointed by the president to establish a RICO case against a violent right-wing militia. This premise allows Diehl to emphasize muscular action over legal shenanigans (there's an armored-car robbery by the militia; bombings, shootings and stalkings by a militia-hired assassin; a climactic FBI-led assault on the militia's mountain stronghold). It also allows him to smarten the scenes between the rough stuff with dramatic glitz: visits to the oval office; flights on a high-tech air mobile operations center; confrontations with the politically powerful. Vail disappears for long stretches of narrative, but he isn't missed since Diehl's take on White House machinations is appealingly cynical and his presentation of militia ways and mindsets is brutally believable. Vail is beginning to appear more superhero than human (it's almost a relief when, at one point, he takes a bullet), and Diehl's resurrection of Vail's crew of legal assistants and his wealthy lover seems more obligatory than inspired. Worse, this generally robust novel suffers from a virulent flaw that almost kills it. For some reason, Diehl chooses to resurrect his best-known villain, who's posing as a fraudulent fire-and-brimstone preacher with a penchant for young girls. Diehl even rigs a ludicrously unlikely final confrontation between this villain and Vail on the militia's mountain. It's too much, as bogus as a $3 bill. Diehl wrote a lot of fine, non-Vail thrillers before Primal Fear; a new one may be in order now. Literary Guild main selection, Doubleday Book Club and Mystery Guild selections; major ad/promo; author tour. (Nov.)