cover image Guilt


John Lescroart. Delacorte Press, $24.95 (480pp) ISBN 978-0-385-31655-2

Perhaps it's because he's one of the few writers of legal thrillers who isn't a lawyer that Lescroart has brought so much more to this novel and its predecessors (A Certain Justice, etc.) than simply courtroom dazzle--though the legal infighting here is first-rate. Mark Dooher, head of a high-powered San Francisco law firm, pushing 50 and tired of his alcoholic wife, is smitten with beautiful law student Christina Carrera. He begins a subtle campaign to woo her, revealing himself to readers (""the little compliments, the kindnesses"") as manipulative, but believably so. When Dooher's wife is murdered in an apparent burglary, SFPD detective Abe Glitsky finds enough odd clues to press for a murder charge against Dooher. With Dooher's best friend, Wes Farrell, leading the defense (with Christina as second chair), the cold-blooded attorney takes on the police, the court and various hostile witnesses. What raises the drama--marred only by a perfunctory ending--to an unusually sophisticated level is not just the crackling legal action but also infusions of the melting-pot tensions of San Francisco, old-fashioned church politics (including a priest suffering a nervous breakdown after a murderer's confession) and strong secondary characters (a feisty rape counselor, a canny archbishop, a smart and ambitious Vietnamese detective). Guilt pervades the plot: Glitsky's over his wife's slow death from cancer; Farrell's over a less-than-stellar law career; Christina's over an old abortion. Only Dooher can say, ""I don't feel any guilt""--though he'll be joined by the many thriller fans who won't feel a twinge about spending a few hours with this robust and intelligent entertainment. $125,000 ad/promo; BOMC selection; author tour. (June)