After starting his lengthy bestselling career with predominantly courtroom dramas, Richard North Patterson has spread his wings in recent years with everything from political dramas to international pot-boilers as well as first-class murder mysteries. With the release of his latest effort, IN THE NAME OF HONOR, he triumphantly returns to the courtroom with a case that features a military trial whereby the defendant in question is also the son of the Army Chief of Staff.
Patterson pulls no punches in this novel that takes you from the battlefields of war-torn Iraq to the center of a family battle where the lines of allegiance are so deep it is almost impossible to tell who is lying to protect someone else and who actually may be guilty of a heinous crime or cover-up. Capt. Paul Terry, legal defense counsel for the U.S. military, is looking forward to ending his tenure in the army and accepting a high-paying job with a New York City law firm. However, a case is personally handed to him that he cannot pass up. He is asked to defend Lt. Brian McCarran, who has been accused of killing his one-time commander, Capt. Joe D’Abruzzo, in cold blood.
Brian claims self-defense and insists he was attacked at his home by a drunk and dangerous D’Abruzzo, who actually threatened his own life. To make matters even stickier, there is family involvement intertwined in the heart of this case that will make it almost impossible to unravel in a satisfactory manner. Brian’s father is the Army Chief of Staff, General Anthony McCarran, and the wife of the deceased, Kate Gallagher, is a close family friend of the McCarrans and General McCarran’s goddaughter.
Terry quickly comes to the realization that this case will not be wrapped up overnight, and his cushy NYC law firm job may be in jeopardy if he is not ready to start in less than one month’s time. To further complicate matters, he has as his co-counsel Meg McCarran, the sister of the accused and a brilliant attorney in her own right. She has taken a leave of absence from her own law firm to defend her brother and realizes that, if he is ultimately convicted, the negative publicity will force her out of the legal profession for good. Like Brian, she also has a lot on the line, and Terry becomes weighed down with the high expectations the entire McCarran family has laid upon him with this trial.
Being a military trial, where both court-martial and incarceration are possibilities, things are not the same as a standard trial. The jury is a military tribunal made up of various active members of the armed services, and the judge is also military personnel. The prosecutor in the case is Mike Flynn, a military lawyer with an untarnished reputation who is known for breaking down the defense and exposing the defendants he gets on the stand. The case is unclear in and of itself as the only living witness to the altercation is the defendant. Allegedly, D’Abruzzo’s wife phoned Brian to warn him that her husband was drunk and angry and heading to his apartment. Earlier, Brian had taken D’Abruzzo’s firearm as Kate had shared her fears over her husband’s physical abuse and the fact that he might use the gun in anger. Brian’s story is that D’Abruzzo showed up at his apartment, forced his way inside and got into attack posture. He also claims that the gun fired in his hand as the only form of defense against a larger and stronger adversary. The prosecution, however, clearly points out that there were several shots fired, including a few that struck D’Abruzzo in the back.
The prosecution claims that Brian and Kate were having an illicit affair that D’Abruzzo found out about. There is some question as to what phone calls were actually made between Brian and Kate beforehand, and Flynn wants to raise the point that the event may have been a setup to eliminate D’Abruzzo. There is also the question of why Brian waited several minutes before contacting the authorities after he killed D’Abruzzo. Terry is forced to rely on a single defense of Brian, since there is no question that he actually shot and killed D’Abruzzo. The defense he must go with is that Brian is a victim of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is an unusual defense, but one that Terry feels has factual premise. Using a prominent military psychologist as well as members of Brian and D’Abruzzo’s Iraq platoon as expert witnesses, Terry hopes that their testimony as to what Brian went through in Iraq will be enough to sway the jury to find him not guilty of cold-blooded murder.
Richard North Patterson is an expert plotter, and the story is not even as straightforward as the description I have outlined. At times, it has the feel of THE CAINE MUTINY but with a modern setting. More importantly, Patterson has been able to bring to light the issue of PTSD within the modern military, and the novel has become a mirror for the real-life Fort Hood trial, where the PTSD defense was used for the first time when Iraq War veteran Jessie Bratcher shot and killed Jose Ceja Medina during a war flashback. IN THE NAME OF HONOR never ceases to amaze at every turn, and the surprises will test even the most astute reader of courtroom dramas.
Reviewed by Ray Palen on January 22, 2011