This seems to be the month for long-established series to experience a turning point --- a shift in storylines, a change in direction. I have noted a couple elsewhere recently, and now comes THE OPHELIA CUT by John Lescroart, which takes the Abe Glitsky/Dismas Hardy series down new, different and surprising pathways. This is Lescroart’s most complex installment in the series to date, a suspense-laden tale of secrets, deceit, lies and, perhaps most significantly, lives slowly unraveling.
"This is Lescroart’s most complex installment in the series to date, a suspense-laden tale of secrets, deceit, lies and, perhaps most significantly, lives slowly unraveling."
Roughly the first half of the book centers on Moses McGuire, the brother of Hardy’s wife, Frannie. McGuire’s daughter, Brittany, is a twenty-something goddess, moving through the San Francisco bar scene like a hot knife through butter, not wanting to “waste the pretty.” She has a revolving door of boyfriends, the latest of whom is a seeming catch named Rick Jessup, whose charm, good looks and political connection hide an ugly and sinister twist to his personality. Brittany’s attempt to end the relationship results in a physical attack from Rick. McGuire, a recovering alcoholic who nonetheless retains some of the impulsive personality traits that mark the condition, confronts Rick and serves him a well-deserved beating. This inadvertently sets up a situation whereby Rick meets with Brittney to discuss the matter, and then date-rapes her. When Rick is subsequently murdered, the finger of suspicion points only at McGuire.
Hardy is retained to defend McGuire, but it quickly becomes clear that he is facing insurmountable odds. The evidence against him is damning, and he certainly had motive. There is also an inference that the close relationships between Hardy and the District Attorney’s office may have resulted in some dragging of feet before McGuire was charged. McGuire adamantly denies his guilt, yet his spontaneous statements to the arresting police officers add to Hardy’s headaches. Worse, a secret act in the past involving Hardy, McGuire, Glitsky and several other principals casts a pall over the proceedings. What if McGuire decides to bare his soul about the past while in prison? An 11th-hour courtroom revelation is as startling as it is unexpected, and solidifies the eventual outcome of the case. Yet the question remains: Is it true? And what is true?
THE OPHELIA CUT doesn’t end so much in a climax as in a series of grand finales --- some of which are startling, and at least two of which mark turning points in the series. Lescroart relates only some of the facts as they occur, so that the readers at any given point know more than law enforcement or Hardy but by no means everything, and thus play catch-up along with the principals. He certainly makes inferences, but do they lead to the correct conclusion? That is just part of the attraction and entertainment of the novel.
From the enigmatic opening pages --- set in New York, no less --- to the haunting closing paragraphs that reveal the source of the book’s title, THE OPHELIA CUT is a haunting work that resonates and echoes.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 10, 2013