Review

The Hearing

by John Lescroart



Long, long ago, on a network far, far away, there was a television
show called "Arrest and Trial." It was 90 minutes long; the first
half of the show involved the commission of a crime and the
"Arrest" of the suspect, and the second half of the show presented
the "Trial." It only lasted one season or so, but it was really
pretty good, what with Chuck "The Rifleman" Connors and an
interesting premise, even if the show's reach more often than not
exceeded its grasp.

I thought of "Arrest and Trial" often while reading THE HEARING, an
excellent new novel by John Lescroart. Lescroart isn't exactly a
household name yet, although he has written several very good
novels previous to THE HEARING. This one, though, may put him way
over; methinks you'll be seeing it clutched in a lot of hands at
bus stops, beaches, and airports.

Like "Arrest and Trial," THE HEARING is part police procedural,
part courtroom drama, taking the best of both genres while blurring
the lines between them. The jacket to THE HEARING isn't slathered
with a lot of quotes about what a keep-you-up-all-night guy John
is. No, the design guys got their way on this one, and they did
very well. Simple cover: raised lettering with the title and author
on a court signboard in red (I think. I'm colorblind, and Mommy
isn't here to dress me or correct my color mistakes). Simple, but
striking. What goes on in THE HEARING, however, is anything but
simple.

THE HEARING is set in modern, right-now, San Francisco. Let's talk
for just a second about how wonderfully Lescroart describes that
city: half-Shangri-La by the grace of God, half-Calcutta due to the
mangled, soft-hearted and soft-headed governing policies of the
past 20 years. Lescroart gets it just right, as only a native
could; it is difficult to read more than a few pages of THE HEARING
at a time without yearning to hop on some mode of transportation
and spend a few days just walking the streets, taking in the beauty
and the food and the sounds of The City. Lescroart, as only a great
writer is able to do, does this while keeping his story moving. He
also, however, pulls off an additional sleight of hand.

THE HEARING has an intriguing, complex plot. Elaine Wager, a well
known attorney, is found shot to death in an alley. Her apparent
murderer is Cole Burgess, a down-and-out heroin addict who is found
in an alcohol-induced stupor near her body and with the murder
weapon in his hand. The police even have a taped confession. It
appears to be a slam dunk. The District Attorney, facing defeat in
an upcoming election, decides to use the incident to political
advantage and presses for death penalty specifications, something
she has never done before. Dismas Hardy, a principled defense
attorney, is reluctantly drawn into Burgess's representation, even
though he is thoroughly convinced of his guilt. Initially brought
into the case by Burgess's sister, Hardy is disturbed by the
attitude of the District Attorney's office with respect to this
case.

The D. A.'s office in the previous four years has treated the
office as a social agency as opposed to a mechanism by which
criminals are brought to justice. This particular case involves a
defendant so intoxicated that he can barely recall what occurred.
Why does the D. A.'s office want the death penalty in this case?
The case is complicated by the fact that the investigating officer,
Abe Glitsky, is --- unknown to almost everyone --- the victim's
father. Glitsky initially is convinced of Burgess's guilt as well,
but slowly starts to see cracks in his certainty. He and Hardy
begin working together to actually investigate what to all
appearances is an open-and-shut case.

Lescroart's unrushed and thoughtful narrative expertly and
meticulously begins to paint each piece of the puzzle and slowly
put them together, one-by-one. While he does this, we really get to
know and care about the people involved. This is not a book that
will meet anyone's explosions-and-karate quota; that is not what it
is about. It is about painstaking, step at a time, investigation,
made more difficult by the fact that it seems unnecessary. The
reader cannot be sure until the last quarter of the book whether or
not Burgess is the true murderer. There are other potential
suspects --- a self-centered boyfriend, a wonderfully drawn shyster
lawyer, the opportunistic D. A. --- but finding out who murdered
Elaine Wager, and why, becomes an all-engrossing task. Lescroart
has done something quite remarkable here. THE HEARING is not a
page-turner in the classic sense; it takes some worthwhile time to
get through. It is, however, nearly impossible to put down. When
you do, the who and why will stay with you, even when you have read
the final page.

THE HEARING is an all encompassing feast for the senses with enough
mystery, drama, and characterization to fill three books. And I'm
serious about Lescroart's descriptions of San Francisco too. If his
descriptions of The City in THE HEARING can't reverse the decline
in tourism, nothing will. Highly recommended.

   --- Joe Hartlaub

Reviewed by on January 22, 2011

The Hearing
by John Lescroart

  • Publication Date: February 1, 2002
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Paperback: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Signet
  • ISBN-10: 0451204891
  • ISBN-13: 9780451204899