In a relatively short period of time, Robert Dugoni has earned a
slot on the A-list of many readers and critics. His third work of
fiction returns to the world of THE JURY MASTER, his debut
WRONGFUL DEATH begins with attorney David Sloane in a familiar
role --- that of seizing victory from the jaws of defeat on behalf
of a client during a jury trial. After the proceedings, with his
string of triumphs intact, Sloane is approached by Beverly Ford,
the widow of a U.S. serviceman killed in action in Iraq. Mrs. Ford
has filed a claim against the government alleging that the body
armor with which her husband had been supplied was inadequate.
Though relatively unfamiliar with military law, Sloane knows that
it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to successfully
litigate an action of this type. Yet there is something about the
woman’s situation that resonates deeply within him.
Sloane, himself an ex-Marine who was injured in combat (and that
story is worth the price of admission to WRONGFUL DEATH all by
itself), begins by first researching the law, a process that does
not reassure him about his chances for success in representing the
Fords. But when he starts investigating the circumstances of
Ford’s death, Sloane almost immediately senses that something
is amiss. First of all, the statements of the soldiers in
Ford’s combat unit are almost identical, a highly unlikely
proposition given the chaos that accompanies a combat situation.
What is equally unusual, however, is that Sloane is finding it
impossible to interview the soldiers: one has apparently committed
suicide, one was killed in what looks like a street drug
transaction gone bad, and a third cannot be located.
Nevertheless, Sloane is undaunted. When his wife and stepson are
the targets of a vague threat, rather than being deterred from his
quest, he becomes more determined than ever to see that justice is
done on behalf of the Fords. Charles Jenkins, the somewhat
enigmatic but extremely capable former CIA agent who helped make
THE JURY MASTER such a joy to read, is along to help, as is Alex,
his gorgeous and dangerous soul mate. Though Sloane and Jenkins are
outnumbered and outclassed --- not to mention that statutory law
isn’t really on Sloane’s side either --- the good guys
have some unexpected aces up their sleeves that no one, including
the reader, will see coming.
I have mentioned this before in my reviews of his other novels,
but it bears repeating: Dugoni is a master at explaining complex
legal concepts in an understandable, readable way and in an
exciting, riveting context. The Feres Doctrine --- which
essentially prevents a soldier from suing the military, the
government and its agents for injuries incurred incidental to
service --- is dry sledding at best. Dugoni puts a real-world face
on it and its consequences. By the time you have finished reading
the book, you will want to seek out more information about the
Feres Doctrine on your own. But he never utilizes legal concepts at
the expense of his narrative thread, doling out the action and the
legal theory in a 5 to 1 ratio.
WRONGFUL DEATH heralds the welcome return of one of thriller
fiction’s newer --- and brightest --- stars.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 24, 2011