Sunday, January 17, 2010

Is This the Best Thriller of 2009?

If you’re the prosecutor who just hung Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich out to dry, what do you do for an encore? If you’re David Ellis, you write your best legal thriller yet, creating a new series hero who should be around for a long time.

In The Hidden Man (Putnam), Jason Kolarich is a Chicago, Illinois, criminal defense attorney easing the pain of a personal tragedy by taking on a bunch of no-brainer cases and drinking himself into a stupor most nights. He’s really come a long way down in the world. A college football star, he landed a good job with one of the Windy City’s most prestigious law firms after serving as a county prosecutor. Fame and fortune were his in the wake of his second-chairing the successful defense of a state senator who had been charged by the feds with extortion and taking bribes.

But then came tragedy--the car-accident death of his wife and child. Kolarich is only just getting back on his feet, when he’s handed a nightmare of a case. A nightmare that so quickly and naturally becomes the reader’s own, you’ll be amazed and frightened in equal measures. It begins with a man known to Kolarich only as Mr. Smith (“From the moment my assistant Marie showed him in, he felt wrong ... His hand was moist when I shook it, and he didn’t make eye contact”), who offers the attorney a very handsome retainer to defend Sammy Cutler. Cutler was Kolarich’s closest boyhood friend, but he hasn’t seen him in 20 years. Now Cutler is up on a murder charge, accused of killing the sexual predator who everybody believes stole Cutler’s baby sister, Audrey, from her bed a quarter-century before. Cutler wants Kolarich to get him off, but it’s not going to be easy. The case will “require dedication, consistency and full work days,” Kolarich explains--and the price of screwing it up will be that his oldest friend spends the rest of his life behind bars.

The Hidden Man’s plot turns even more harrowing when Kolarich begins receiving threats of violence from Smith and his employer, known only as “Carlo.” Those threats are directed primarily against Kolarich’s younger brother, Pete, who is the single surviving member of their clan that Jason still loves. When Pete is charged with selling guns and a large amount of cocaine, he insists to his brother that he was set up. Kolarich believes him, but now he has to work his mind and body through some dangerous episodes.

Author Ellis lays all of this out in cool, understated pages that grab you by the collar, send you reeling forward, and make you understand why he’s done so well in his other life as a litigator.

1 comment:

MP said...

I thought this was easily the best thriller of 2009, and I've been somewhat shocked to see it on so few best of the year lists. All of Ellis' books are good. Besides this one, "Line of Vision" and "In the Company of Liars" are probably the best. The latter starts at the end and works its way back to the beginning. Sounds like a gimmick but Ellis really makes it pay off.