John Lescroart becomes more and more impressive with each successive novel. DAMAGE, his 22nd work, is a textbook demonstration of why he continues to thrive, even at this late date. Over the course of time, Lescroart has created a cast of characters that from book to book can slide easily from the spotlight to the background and back to the forefront again. This avoids repetitious or formalistic plotting by introducing new and exotic elements yet providing enough of what is familiar to keep loyal readers comfortable and, more importantly, coming back.
As with Lescroart’s other works, the primary character of DAMAGE is San Francisco, which he demonstrably loves. Rather than ignore the city’s multiple and unique flaws, he spotlights them and accepts them on an equal level with the many jewels that are to be had in one of the world’s most unique metropolises. The story itself is propelled by the reversal and remand of a rape and murder conviction that occurred approximately a decade before. Wes Farrell, the newly minted District Attorney for the City of San Francisco, is tasked with dealing with the thicket of problems that comes with the case. Ro Curtlee is the defendant, the spoiled scion of the owners of the San Francisco Courier, one of the city’s most influential newspapers.
The reversal, occasioned by the wisdom of the infamous Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, puts Farrell in an awkward position for a number of reasons. The paper --- Curtlee’s parents --- strongly supported his campaign. Farrell has built a reputation as a criminal defense attorney in San Francisco as a partner in Dismas Hardy’s firm, and still retains a sympathy for the accused. His dithering on a request for bail results in Curtlee being free to roam the city pending a new trial. Farrell soon has cause to regret this decision.
Bad things begin happening to people who played an important part in the original conviction. A witness in the trial is burned to death. The life of the foreman of the jury that convicted Curtlee is dramatically and horribly changed. Even members of the police department and the district attorney’s office are not immune. Meanwhile, any suggestion that Curtlee could be responsible for the reign of terror in the city is met with derision and accusations of prejudice in the Courier. Meanwhile, the judiciary in the city appears generally to be bought and paid for, implicitly if not explicitly. When Farrell himself becomes a target of intimidation, however, he rises to the occasion, implementing a plan that will bring Curtlee to justice, though possibly at the cost of his career.
DAMAGE is not so much a courtroom or legal thriller as a police procedural, finding Farrell in the somewhat unique and unaccustomed position of working as an equal partner with the venerable Abe Glitsky rather than in vociferous though respectful opposition. This element alone would make the book worth reading. But it is Lescroart’s pitch-perfect plotting, with its twists and turns that are still playing themselves out almost to book’s end, that will keep readers turning pages past any self-imposed curfews and returning to Lescroart’s considerable backlist.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 14, 2011