The Rule of Law by John Lescroart (Legal Thriller, January 2019).
The wily Dismas Hardy heads up a crew of defense attorneys in San Francisco and this is the latest entry in a long-running series about them and their cases. For a legal thriller, this one features almost nothing in the way of courtroom theatrics. The focus here is on investigations, counter-investigations, corruption in high places, murderous cover-ups, the abuse of power, simmering guilt feelings and the politics of immigration law.
Hardy’s firm has admirers, or at least people who respect them, within law enforcement. But there are also plenty who hate their guts. One of the latter, Ron Jameson, has just won election as the local DA. Jameson is a dishonest, scruple-free character with a vengeful grudge against Hardy’s firm after winning a bitter election campaign against one of Hardy’s law partners. When a murder case involving people who smuggle undocumented aliens indirectly links up with Hardy’s longtime secretary, he jumps on a chance to attack the firm as well as advance his career.
He really has no real evidence that naive and idealistic Phyllis has anything to do with the actual killing. But her secret life helping illegal migrants as part of a latter-day underground railroad type operation seems to provide the ruthless DA with a chance to smear Dismas and his firm. Jameson is so eager to get an easy, sleazy PR win that he sidelines the investigation by regular homicide cops before they uncover the truth about the murder. Unfortunately for his schemes, one of the murder police pulled off the case in favor of the DA’s thuggish pet investigator is the same cop who suspects Jameson and his wife committed (and to date got away with) a pair of murders several years ago.
Yes, as readers know from the opening prologue but only Beth Tully truly believes at first, the rising power couple are themselves two-time murders. As a determined cop, Beth is understandably no fan of defense attorneys, but other cops and ex-cops she respects insist Dismas Hardy is a trustworthy figure. And now, he and his firm have every reason to help her oppose Jameson.
The truth, about the current case, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Jameson’s earlier actions will, of course come out. But not before the renegade DA has his flunky dig into an even older unsolved mystery that figured in one of Hardy and company’s early books. As such, we see that Dismas Hardy and his friends have skeletons of their own in their personal history, and they’re not above covering things up when necessary. Not all the details are revealed here, but their manipulations are tacitly excused (since Hardy and his friends are “good guys” operating in an often unjust world).
The same mindset tends to excuse the otherwise straight-arrow Phyllis for breaking the law in helping the undocumented evade what she sees as an evil, heartless system.
As such, the novel is likely to outrage strict Law & Order readers. Politics aside, this is an effective thriller and longtime fans of this series will find it pleasing, I believe.