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It requires some intestinal fortitude for a successful author of genre series fiction to stray from the familiar path and write a stand-alone work. So it is that we come to FATAL by John Lescroart, primarily known for his Dismas Hardy/Abe Glitsky thrillers as well as the Wyatt Hunt spinoff series. It is set in San Francisco and is in part a police procedural novel, as are the titles that comprise both of the aforementioned series. However, it is a very different book from those, similarities notwithstanding. It is also --- again, like those --- very, very good and certainly (not to mention unexpectedly) one of Lescroart's best to date.

"There is a cinematic feel to FATAL that is present in larger doses than in perhaps any of Lescroart’s other works.... This is a book full of subtle surprises, easy twists and dark turns..."

FATAL may contain elements of police procedure, but it takes a while to get there. The hook that sinks the reader is a solitary assignation that takes place very early in the proceedings. The participants are a husband and wife who are happily married, each to someone else. They meet briefly at a dinner party, a light encounter that leaves Kate Jameson infatuated with Peter Ash. Kate subsequently arranges a meeting with Peter and literally throws herself at him. Peter is initially reluctant but goes with the moment. Afterward, the roles are reversed. Kate’s itch has been scratched, and she is no longer interested in Peter, who, alas, has become obsessed with her. But all of his advances are summarily rejected. Just as he is wondering what to do next, an event occurs that affects not only Kate, Peter and their spouses, but also virtually everyone in San Francisco.

Lescroart then suddenly advances the narrative by several months. A number of startling changes have occurred for Kate and Peter and everyone in their respective and interlocking circles, from friends to spouses and beyond. Kate’s best friend, a San Francisco homicide detective named Beth Tully, soon finds herself in the middle of the situation, juggling ethics with friendship and other elements as well. She ultimately discovers that investigation, as difficult as it may be, is relatively easy; it is justice that is hard to deliver. Will it be served, delayed or denied? That is the question that this book serves up.

There is a cinematic feel to FATAL that is present in larger doses than in perhaps any of Lescroart’s other works. San Francisco lends itself well as a backdrop, but what he really captures here, so often and so well, is the city’s gestalt (if I am using the right word) as a small town where everyone seems to know everyone else, and someone’s action, however momentary, can resonate across distance and time, for good or ill...and here it’s very much for ill. This is a book full of subtle surprises, easy twists and dark turns, one that, somehow at this late date for the genre, provides a new shade for the term “villain.” It is also very much a cautionary tale, one to which virtually anyone can relate, whether they live in a self-styled and self-aware cosmopolitan city like San Francisco or in a quiet, steady and sturdy community such as Fairlawn, Ohio, or Covington, Kentucky.

Whether you are a steadfast fan of Lescroart’s or have never read his work, you simply must read FATAL. You know these people.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 27, 2017

by John Lescroart

  • Publication Date: September 26, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Pocket Books
  • ISBN-10: 1501174940
  • ISBN-13: 9781501174940