David Ellis' new legal thriller is a suspenseful delight
The Wrong Man
Smart thriller writer, thy name is David Ellis. Ellis, an Illinois attorney, won an Edgar the first time out of the gate with his twisty, intelligent novel, Line of Vision. Since then his writing has only sharpened and deepened, but he still flies under the radar a bit, which is a shame. He’s one thriller writer who richly deserves discovery.
His last three books have centered around a lawyer in a nameless Midwestern city (but which sure seems a lot like Chicago) named Jason Kolarich. Jason, a widower who lost his wife and young daughter in a car crash, has been recovering emotionally since the first book, where he also jettisoned his fancy berth at a large law firm in favor of hanging his shingle with an old college pal, Shauna.
That’s pretty much all you need to know, and each book examines different aspects of Jason’s personality and attachments. This one is the most purely legal thriller he’s written in a while. Jason is asked by the aunt of a homeless man accused of shooting an unarmed woman to defend her nephew.
The nephew, it turns out, is an Iraq war vet suffering from PTSD, so badly he can’t really communicate with his lawyer other than to say that he wants everything to be “over.” His main topic of conversation is the prison food (which he mostly dislikes).
Pushed by time constraints — Jason is allowed to take over the case, but the judge refuses a continuance — he begins to research both the crime and the supposed criminal, and something doesn’t seem to add up. Jason has a growing conviction that his client is, in fact, innocent, though he’s going to have the devil of a time trying to prove it, as his client won’t talk.
As Jason delves into the life story of the dead girl, a young paralegal, he begins to think the motive for her murder wasn’t the result of PTSD but something far more sinister. Like any good thriller writer, Ellis utilizes a number of different threads which eventually tie together.
The end of the book has just the right number of twists, and the suspense aspect of the story is excellent — compressed by time constraints, Jason is of course forced “off the grid” more or less, with his legal team working full blast alongside him.
Like Jeffery Deaver or Michael Connelly, Ellis is able to take a complicated story, infuse it with some heart and empathy thanks to a very well drawn central character, and keep you guessing until the end of the story. Do yourself a favor, and make Ellis one of your summer beach reading discoveries. You won’t be sorry.