* Carter, Stephen L.
Knopf (672 pp.)
Jun. 7, 2002
This sleek, immensely readable first novel by Yale law professor Carter, author of such provocative nonfiction as The Culture of Disbelief (1993) and God's Name in Vain (2000), is custom-designed for the kind of commercial success enjoyed by John Grisham's The Firm 11 years ago.
The complicated fun begins with the death of federal Judge Oliver Garland, a black conservative and former Reagan appointee to the Supreme Court--a nomination that fell through when a scandal linked Garland to "underground investment banker" Jack Ziegler, whose shadowy figure initiates the subsequent intrigues into which Garland's son Talcott (a prim law prof, and Carter's narrator) is swept up. Talcott's fiery sister Mariah insists that their father (a presumable suicide) was murdered. Initially unpersuaded, Talcott gradually becomes a believer as he's alternately stroked and betrayed by various colleagues and pols, stalked, shot at, and thunderstruck by what he learns regarding the (earlier) death of his sister Abigail in a hit-and-run accident, the Judge's mingled grief and fury thereafter, and the hidden agenda of Talcott's forceful wife "Kimmer" (Kimberly), an attorney hustling for her own appointment to the federal bench. Almost everybody is other than what he or she seems, including Talcott's feckless older brother Addison, NBA pro-turned law student Lionel Eldridge, liberal Justice Wallace Wainwright, an ebullient mystery woman named Maxine, and urbane black careerist Lemaster Carlyle. Prominent among the crucial narrative elements are a missing set of "arrangements" supposedly written by Judge Garland, a reputed hit man posing as an FBI agent, baffling references to (the unknown) "Angela's boyfriend," a chess problem known as "Double Excelsior," and several misheard scraps of information. Carter connects all this irresistible hugger-mugger with great skill, building toward a series of staggered climaxes that explode over the final 150 pages. Few readers will refrain from racing excitedly through them.
A melodrama with brains and heart to match its killer plot. (First printing of 500,000; Book-of-the-Month Club dual main selection; Quality Paperback Book Club main selection; Literary Guild/Doubleday Book Club/Mystery Guild alternate selection)