This legal thriller’s appeal hinges on our ability to like the main character, Robert Worth, on the verge of seeing his five years of grueling billable hours translate into a partnership at the L.A. Law firm where he works. Duff opens with a sympathetic picture of Worth languishing in jail with his entreaties to the cops falling on deaf ears. It is obvious he is innocent. The puzzle that’s presented is how did he end up here?
Duff balances callous self-interest with an easy-going sense of decency in his character. Worth helps the wife of a local Latino out of a legal jam, but waves off any talk of payment. On the other hand, at work he closes ranks with an unethical bullying senior partner, Jack Pierce. Pierce and his sycophant associate are pressuring their client, Alison Maxwell, into accepting a low-ball settlement in the death of her brother. Despite Worth’s naked ambition, it is easy to prefer him to the overbearing Pierce.
Duff then proceeds to make Worth a victim. Pierce gets Worth fired. This, and Worth’s clever legal maneuvering in retaliation, finally wins the reader over.
This is a fast-paced legal thriller. It fulfills the kind of expectations we have of the genre: What goes around comes around. However, also works with themes of self-absorption and manipulative avarice voiced by the line: “In this town, you never know anybody.” (Location 1348) It’s a question that comes up repeatedly in the book. Do we really know any of these characters?
Duff is skillful at integrating legal nitty-gritty with illuminating scenes communicated by convincing dialog. He walks us through Worth’s thinking while drafting a release for wrongful death document, not the most riveting of topics one might think. Yet, he does this in a way that holds our interest, making it clear that a new development is waiting in the wings.
There is no attempt to develop rounded characters here. This is a plot-driven book, but nevertheless entertaining. On the other hand, I never developed the kind of attachment to the character that the author obviously was aiming at, the kind of attachment that would have earned 4 stars from me. I was surprised to see that the author envisions this as a series. There simply didn’t seem to be enough of a character there, despite the attempts to create an emotionally complicated backstory.