cover image Silent Witness

Silent Witness

Richard North Patterson. Random House Inc, $25.95 (512pp) ISBN 978-0-679-45040-5

Like its predecessors, Patterson's latest novel (after The Final Judgment) evinces endless admiration for the ornateness of the law, and is crowded with complex characters whose troubles will draw readers deeply into their story. This hypnotic tale revolves around a friendship that begins on a high-school football field and is tested half a lifetime later in a Lake City, Ohio, courtroom. Tony Lord, a noted California criminal lawyer, returns to the home of his youth to defend his oldest friend, Sam Robb, against the charge of murdering his 16-year-old mistress. Lord takes the sordid case in part because his own life was nearly shattered when, as a teenager, he was suspected of murdering his own girlfriend. Because he wasn't formally charged, he was never ""acquitted"" by his neighbors of the brutal killing, which remains unsolved 28 years later. Lord isn't ready for the feelings that assault him in Lake City, or for the resurrection of memories both cherished and hated-like those of his brief affair with the cheerleader who became Sam Robb's wife, or of Sam's past questioning of Lord's innocence. Moving back and forth in time with metronomic patience, Patterson grants these two homicide cases an almost epic grandeur. He examines, in sometimes painful detail, the ways in which the friendships of youth can pass into personal mythology and skew adult judgment. But he is at his dramatic finest when, at last, he gives the emotions of these characters, who are connected by a lifetime of love and resentment, full reign in the courtroom. These are the scenes that his fans will anticipate most eagerly, and they are as explosive and revealing as anyone could wish. 400,000 first printing; Literary Guild main selection; simultaneous Random House Audio. (Jan.)