With over a hundred mysteries and thrillers published each month, it's rare that a new book by an unknown author makes a splash, both with critics and with the public. John Grisham's The Firm
was a cult hit among lawyers that exploded into New York Times
bestsellerdom. Tom Clancy's The Hunt for Red October
, first published by the Naval Institute Press, was discovered when Ronald Reagan labeled it a "perfect yarn." Sheldon Siegel's debut legal thriller, Special Circumstances
is likely to take its place among these precious few.
The novel begins with the distinctive voice of Siegel's ex-priest hero: "After my five years as an underproductive partner in our white-collar criminal defense department, our executive committee asked me to leave. I was, in short, fired. On Monday I'll open the law offices of Michael J. Daley, criminal-defense attorney, in a subleased office in a walk-up building in the not-so-trendy part of San Francisco's South of Market area. Welcome to the modern practice of law...."
But on his final day of work, a senior partner turns up dead. A close colleague of Daley's is the most likely suspect, and Daley--in his new walk-up practice--takes the case. In a series of brilliantly executed twists and turns, he uncovers one layer of deception and intrigue after another to get to the root truth of the case. Meanwhile, Siegel--a San Francisco attorney himself--continues to pepper his first-person narrative with Daley's dead-on jabs at the world of courtroom warfare. Of the new San Francisco DA, for example, Daley comments: "As an attorney, he's careless, lazy and unimaginative. As a human being, he's greedy, condescending and an unapologetic philanderer. As a politician, however, he's the real deal."
While Special Circumstances is not a "perfect yarn," it is nearly so. As well-executed as most classic legal thrillers, it slips effortlessly into a distinctive narrative voice to capture Mike Daley's world and elevate the thriller story line to a deeper commentary on the state of the legal profession and the quest for true justice. Welcome to the big time, Sheldon Siegel. --Patrick O'Kelley
From Publishers Weekly
San Francisco attorney Siegel's debut pits a likable lead against a giant law firm run by villains and fools; the result is a well-made courtroom page-turner, skillful and taut right up through the surprise ending. Siegel's hero and narrator is the competent, low-key Mike Daley, former priest and onetime public defender, now a 45-year-old partner at San Francisco's glossy Simpson and Gates. Daley hasn't brought enough business to the criminal department, and the senior partners have asked that he resign. Also leaving the firm is Prentice Marshall "Skipper" Gates III, son of the firm's founding partner: Skipper has just been elected district attorney. "My partners are thrilled," says Daley of Skipper's departure. "They have never complained about his arrogance, sloppy work and condescending attitude.... What they can live without is his $400,000 draw..." On New Year's Eve at Simpson and Gates, Daley is packing up his office, Skipper is enjoying a glitzy farewell party and other lawyers are working to close a lucrative property deal. But when the deal falls apart, two of those lawyers--a slimy master litigator and an ambitious young female partner--are found shot to death. At first it seems to be a murder-suicide brought on by greed, sex and depression. Then one of Daley's few friends at the firm, the son of a prominent rabbi, is charged with the murders. Daley and Skipper clash in a high-profile court case with echoes of several recent real-life media circuses. If the trial itself takes up too many pages, Siegel redeems himself elsewhere by focusing on the flawed, often-desperate Daley: Siegel humanizes his hero by depicting Daley's charged, still-sexual relationship with his ex-wife, a tough lawyer who retains custody of their six-year-old daughter. With a winning protagonist and a gripping plot, Siegel's debut is sure to make partner at its first-choice firm: the expanding empire of Turow, Grisham, Lescroart, Wilhelm, Margolin and Baldacci. (Feb.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.