Revenge is a lunch best eaten cold. Justice can be had, though rarely in courtrooms --- and as for the afterlife, who knows? Let patience rule, let the clock tick and something, somewhere will present itself. Revenge and justice are the driving themes behind THE BEST REVENGE by Stephen White.
White is not afraid to take chances. He has a wonderfully conceived character, Dr. Alan Gregory, a great supporting cast consisting of Lauren Gregory --- Alan's wife and assistant Boulder County, Colorado D.A.--- and Sam Purdy, Alan's unlikely but believable best friend and Boulder County Police detective. White, however, does not present these characters in THE BEST REVENGE until about a fourth of the way through the book. No; instead we are introduced to Tom Clone on his first day of freedom after spending 13 years on Death Row. Clone is being freed as the result of DNA evidence uncovered by FBI Agent Kelda James. The lives and fates of James and Clone are intertwined in ways not immediately made privy to the reader. No; we see them meet upon Clone's release, the instant attraction on Clone's part and the enigma that is James. As THE BEST REVENGE unwinds, we see them both as patients of Gregory's. Gregory's role here is not so much to shape or affect events as to be moved by them himself. Gregory is going through a professional crisis, plagued by self-doubt, second-guessing his own judgment and motives. His involvement with Clone and James comes at a time when he is particularly vulnerable. Clone is also vulnerable, attaching himself to James as his savior, while James appears to be ambivalent to his affections. Then there are those who believe that Clone is guilty of the crime with which he was charged and they are waiting for him to make a misstep that will provide the evidence needed to possibly send him back to Death Row.
All the players in THE BEST REVENGE appear to have ulterior motives and uncovering those motives propels this novel along. White sustains and surpasses the momentum he achieved with WARNING SIGNS. It is not necessary to read White's previous Gregory novels in order to appreciate THE BEST REVENGE, but you will want to do so in any event, just to see what you've missed from Gregory and White. White continues to dazzle with his ability to make a complex plot line explainable and with his penchant for taking chances. Few writers would take the chance of introducing a story's most interesting character near the end of a book; White does this and carries it off brilliantly.
White, with THE BEST REVENGE, continues to shape and develop Gregory and his supporting characters while making them all stronger. His willingness to let his characters breathe, grow and change --- and his ability to let them do so within a fascinating plot structure --- bode well for future novels and for the prospects of an ever-increasing readership base. Very highly recommended.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 2, 2003