cover image The Mercy Rule

The Mercy Rule

John Lescroart. Delacorte Press, $24.95 (480pp) ISBN 978-0-385-31658-3

For a topical thriller from an established talent, Lescroart's 10th (after Guilt) is curiously flat. Maybe it's the cliche factor--which surfaces fast, when San Francisco lawyer Dismas Hardy (back from The 13th Juror) gets a call from Graham Russo, who's accused of killing his ailing father, Sal, and responds with a hackneyed riff on the Reluctant Lawyer theme. It turns out that Russo is sleeping with his arresting officer, Inspector Sarah Evans, who thinks he's innocent--even though every time he's asked a new set of questions, his old answers are revealed to be lies. It seems Sal had friends in high places (among them federal judge Mario Giotti); because his death appears to be a mercy killing, the DA is not going to press charges. But Russo is indicted anyway, and he wants Hardy to ignore a mercy killing defense and prove his total innocence. This is when the plot should take off, but it doesn't. The key questions are clear: Do lawkeepers have the moral obligation to enforce what they believe to be a bad law? Is a lawyer supposed to do what the client wants, or what will get the client off? No sooner does Lescroart pose these questions than he forgets about them, widening his lens to an angle that reduces everything to the same scale. There are many small successes--the courtroom scenes are little masterpieces of battlefield maneuvering--but, because the book's only overarching concerns are plot-related (Hardy's reluctance, Russo's affair, Russo's innocence), the added level of depth and concern that would create a truly great courtroom thriller are absent. BDD audio. (Sept.)