Sheldon Siegel's new Mike Daley mystery opens in a San Quentin
death row cellblock, where Nate Fineman is 8 days, 12 hours and 58
minutes away from execution. Confined to a wheelchair, the result
of a broken back in a fall 10 years before, and with his kidneys
failing, he calls upon Daley to act as co-counsel for a last-minute
stay of execution. Daley and his partner, ex-wife Rosie Fernandez,
take on the case, lured by a $50,000 retainer. To make matters
worse, their co-counsel dies of a heart attack during their first
day on the job.
An ex-defense lawyer, Fineman has burnt bridges beyond repair. His
colorful legal career included working against the police in a bold
Posse prosecution defending dubious underground characters, and his
history of collision with the cops has earned him their disdain.
Negotiating a truce between two drug dealers, Fineman had met with
them at a San Francisco Chinatown restaurant, the Golden Dragon. A
man rushed into the room and began shooting. Fineman jumped out of
a window and ran down a fire escape but slipped. When he regained
consciousness, his fingerprints were on the gun that had killed
Now, Daley's sole recourse in the courts is to prove "freestanding
innocence." His brother, Pete, works on the tough case as well. A
former cop who’s now a private investigator, he’s
dubious about success on the legal venture but relentlessly chases
down possible witnesses to the crime.
Eugene Tsai walked through the alley behind the restaurant that
fateful night, accompanied by a fellow student, Jasmine Luk. Tsai
had told the police that he had seen a black man running from the
scene but could not identify him. Two days later, Tsai was stabbed
to death in a robbery. The police never found out who killed him.
Luk had disappeared, with nobody in Chinatown willing to talk about
the Golden Dragon killings.
Daley visits with the original defense attorney who now resides in
a Jewish Home residence for the aged. Mort "the Sport" Goldberg
describes his research for Fineman's case, the only capital case he
ever lost. His story jives with the official police version,
recapped by Roosevelt Johnson, the detective who had worked the
case along with Daley's father. In the original case, Goldberg had
indicated that the murder weapon was planted in Fineman's hand, the
fact covered up by cops seeing revenge for his Posse case
The closer the clock ticks to the time of execution, the more
desperate Daley's search for answers becomes. He soon is convinced
that Fineman was set up for the killings, but the task of proving
the theory looms monumental. Meanwhile, Daley's daughter receives a
threatening note, Tsai's brother's apartment is ransacked and an
Internal Affairs file at police headquarters that supposedly
cleared all personnel at the crime scene of the wrongdoing is
missing. The suspense tightens when Daley discovers that the person
to check out the IA file was his own father, first on the scene
with his partner.
Daley's chief suspect is Marshawn Bryant, a black contractor who
may have been the gunman identified by the Chinese couple. Bryant
had worked with one of the victims and could have benefitted from
his partner's death. He had dealings with Alex Aronis, the garbage
king of East Bay. They both stood to gain from the deaths of two
drug kingpins, moving into the territory as new moguls. But Daley's
major witness is Aronis's disgruntled ex-wife, who can offer little
damage but character assassination of her ex.
Pete's diligence in locating witnesses finally pays off, but at
grave personal expense. With less than two days to work, two
potential bombshell witnesses are found, and the Daleys have their
chance in court to prove their case. Nothing is certain as Fineman
has ordered the menu for his last meal.
Sheldon Siegel writes a rapid-fire desperation-filled legal
thriller. His characters are researched with a fine-tuned pen ---
believable, empathetic, comically named, lovable to a degree. The
personal conflict about Daley's deceased father is written as a
gnawing undercurrent to the plot that eventually rises to the
surface, and repetition is minimal to move the story toward the
conflict resolution. Recommendations are sure to be positive for
Siegel's newest case.
Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on January 22, 2011