David Ellis is a new name to me, but he’s enjoyed success with five previous books, including Line of Vision and Eye of the Beholder. He is a Chicago attorney, currently Counsel to the Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives, and he strides confidently in the footsteps of Scott Turow (who has offered an appreciative blurb) and John Grisham.
This book introduces Jason Kolarich, an attorney who is struggling to come to terms with his torment over the loss of his wife and daughter, and whose remaining family is a dodgy brother called Pete. Jason is hired by a mysterious stranger (mysterious and unimaginative – he calls himself Smith) to defend Sammy Cutler, an old friend of Jason’s from schooldays, who has been charged with murder. Twenty-six years earlier, Sammy’s sister had been abducted, apparently by a paedophile named Perlini, and now, it seems, Sammy has murdered Perlini.
Naturally, the truth turns out to be much more complicated. As Jason digs deeper into the case, he finds plenty of reason to suspect Smith’s motives. What is really going on? Did Sammy kill Perlini? Did Perlini kill Sammy’s sister? Whom can Jason trust? His weak point is Pete, who is first set up for a criminal charge, and later kidnapped himself, as Jason takes on unknown opponents with a determination fuelled by grief and anger.
This is a very well plotted thriller, definitely a cut above most of the competition. Most of the story is told by Jason, and the first person sections are by far the most compelling. When the viewpoint shifts, Ellis’s touch occasionally seems less sure. For instance, there is a chapter towards the end of the book in which a crucial scene is played out not from Jason’s point of view but from Smith’s, and I wasn’t sure that worked. But I enjoyed the book, and I look forward to reading more of David Ellis in the future.