Review

The Second Chair

by John Lescroart



John Lescroart is one of those writers who is able to grab the
reader's imagination with his first sentence: "Only four minutes
remained in sixteen-year-old Laura Wright's life as she came out of
the bathroom of the small apartment on Beaumont Street in San
Francisco." From this high-pitched beginning, his new book, THE
SECOND CHAIR, wends its way through a zigzag plot that is littered
with dead bodies, blind alleys, red herrings, courtroom drama and a
denouement sure to keep pulses racing.

Andrew North is the privileged son of rich self-centered parents:
Linda, his biological mother, and Hal, his stepfather. Andrew, a
popular high school student, and his girlfriend were the leads in
the school play and had made a habit of rehearsing in the evenings
at the home of their teacher, Mr. Mooney. One fatal night, when
Andrew goes for a walk to rehearse his lines, Mooney and the
ingénue are murdered.

Each time the police question Andrew, they assure the family that
he is not a suspect. Thus, he talks to them without the benefit of
counsel. He and his parents know he's innocent, but approximately
two months into the investigation, he is arrested. Nobody is more
surprised by this event than Andrew.

When the Norths finally contact Amy Wu, an attorney they had used
years before when Andrew had gotten into a small scrape, Andrew was
being held at the Youth Guidance Center (YGC) charged with double
murder. He was booked into juvenile hall because, although he was
seventeen, for the purposes of this arrest he was still technically
not considered an adult … yet. When Amy gets to the house and
begins asking the elementary questions a lawyer called into a
double murder case always asks, she is appalled by the naiveté
the parents had displayed in the pre-arrest of their son. These
successful, rich and presumably savvy parents "knew" Andrew was
innocent and believed that he was lucky to have been out of the
house when the murders occurred. Their belief in their son's
innocence could cost him his life. Up until he was taken away in
handcuffs, the family felt that none of them had to worry.

After listening to all of the reasons and rationalizations the
parents had devised in their attempt to "protect" Andrew and
convince themselves that their son was innocent, Wu, who is
flabbergasted by what she is hearing, asks why the police decided
to arrest him two months later after talking to him several times.
Linda explains that in the early stages of the investigation, the
police asked if they owned any guns. Hal responded in the
affirmative, but was unable to locate it. The police later found a
casing in Andrew's car --- the gun had disappeared, but it was the
same caliber as the murder weapon.

Amy Wu is an associate of Dismis Hardy, Lescroart's "regular
attorney." THE SECOND CHAIR comes on the heels of his last
blockbuster, THE FIRST LAW, in which David Freeman, Hardy's mentor,
is murdered and the people who truly loved him "took care to see
that 'justice' was carried out." All of them are still reeling from
what they did and are trying as best they can to cope with his
death. Each in his/her own way is haunted by the part they played
in making sure his killer paid with his life. Amy is not doing too
well in the emotional stability arena, either. Her father died a
few months ago and she is drinking too much, indulging in one night
stands and has cut herself off from any help or support friends
might offer.

Nevertheless, she takes the case. Based on her belief that all or
most of her clients are guilty, her approach to a case is to plead
down and get as little time as possible for the perp. In Andrew's
case she takes the same route and rationalizes a defense of sorts
in her mind. She will do what she does best: fight for the best
deal she can get, and then hope she can sell it to the Norths and
then to Andrew. Her plan is to have him plead guilty to the
murders, even if he is innocent, as he claims. If he agrees, he
will get eight years of incarceration as a youth offender. If he
goes to trial, it will be as an adult and he could go to prison for
life. The cliffhanging tension while Andrew, his family, Wu and
Hardy try to decide his fate is both heartwrenchingly realistic and
perfectly pitched.

THE SECOND CHAIR is a compelling novel. It is timely and not so far
fetched that readers won't identify with the painful situation
facing the characters. John Lescroart brings to the courtroom
thriller a mix of anecdotes that explain the law, an ensemble of
characters who are fully limned and struggle with the human
problems that beset all of us. The ability to shape and reshape
them lends verisimilitude, which allows them to mature. This is
Lescroart's fourteenth book and it is clearly one of his best. He
is such an accomplished storyteller that a reader can pick up any
of his books in or out of sequence and miss none of the nuances
between his characters or get lost in a panoply of references to
earlier novels.

This author crafts his tales with due diligence, and that is what
makes his work stand tall among the plethora of lawyer-writers
whose books line shelves everywhere. This one is a keeper!

Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on January 23, 2011

The Second Chair
by John Lescroart

  • Publication Date: December 28, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Signet
  • ISBN-10: 0451211413
  • ISBN-13: 9780451211415