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One Fatal Flaw: A Daniel Pitt Novel


One Fatal Flaw: A Daniel Pitt Novel

When Anne Perry stepped away from her two bestselling Victorian-era mystery series, featuring Thomas and Charlotte Pitt and Inspector William Monk, I thought it was just a one-time diversion. Her protagonist was Daniel Pitt, Thomas and Charlotte’s son. The newly released ONE FATAL FLAW is the third to feature this young attorney and may very well be the best book she has written in years --- which is high praise indeed as all of her work is top-notch.

The year is 1910, and Daniel Pitt is a junior lawyer working under the more seasoned Toby Kitteridge. Daniel just happens to be there in the office when Jessie Beale comes in seeking representation. It turns out that there was a warehouse fire that took place during the alleged commission of a crime. Jessie's boyfriend, Rob Adwell, was at this warehouse after hours with a man named Paddy Jackson. Their intention was to rob the place, but their plans were quickly scuttled when a fire broke out, leaving behind a lot of damage as well as Paddy’s corpse. Upon arresting Adwell, the local police charge him with murder. In their initial determination, Paddy had suffered a severe blow to the back of his head, and then the fire was set in order to cover it up.

With Adwell, a small-time thug with a lengthy police record, being accused of murder, it is extremely likely that he will hang for this offense. However, both Adwell and Jessie swear that he is innocent when Daniel meets with him while in holding. The only way to prevent this open-and-shut case from going down quickly in the judicial system would be if Daniel could obtain some sort of expert testimony to raise a shadow of a doubt about Adwell’s guilt. Daniel immediately reaches out to his good friend and frequent colleague, Miriam fford Croft, the smartest person he knows and an above-average forensic scientist. On Miriam's recommendation, they reach out to an expert on fire and arson cases --- one of her former college professors, Sir Barnabas Saltram.

"[ONE FATAL FLAW] may very well be the best book [Perry] has written in years --- which is high praise indeed as all of her work is top-notch."

Saltram has testified in many court cases over the years, and his opinion is well-respected. He indicates that, in the case of severe heat from fire, a skull may actually crack under that intense pressure. With the jury taking this into account, it means that any premeditation on Adwell's part will be off the table, and there will be more than a mere shadow of a doubt as to the implication that he struck Paddy and left him to die. The jury comes back with a not-guilty verdict, and everyone is happy. That is until three weeks later, when Jessie darkens Daniel's doorway again. This time the situation is reversed. It seems that Adwell has died in a similar fire; she has been placed under arrest and accused of his murder.

This puts Daniel in a morally ambiguous situation that many defense attorneys must experience --- the difficulty of defending a client who you know is guilty. Yes, everyone is entitled to legal representation and a fair trial, but in this case, Jessie has practically thrown in his face that she proudly committed the crime and expects him to pull out Saltram’s expert testimony one more time to get her off the hook. Daniel has a lot of trouble dealing with this predicament, but understands the oath he took as a defense attorney and follows through with his client's request to use Saltram's testimony in her defense.

It is here where Daniel somewhat unethically crosses the line, yet does so in a completely legal way. He does not want to attack Saltram's testimony because it would then refute the result of the Adwell case, as well as the dozens of previous cases in which he used the exploding skull premise. Instead, he works with Miriam to identify another fire and arson expert and have that person testify on behalf of the prosecution. Dr. Evelyn “Eve” Hall completely refutes Saltram's testimony. The jury returns in a mere 30 minutes with a guilty verdict. Daniel is now off the hook; yes, he has taken a loss as defense counsel but has won the moral battle with his own conscience.

This all takes place in the first half of the book, so astute readers will be on their toes for another bombshell to hit --- which strikes in the form of Adria Leigh. The surname is quite familiar to Daniel, as well as to others who recall the famous court case 20 years ago in which actress Marguerite Daventry perished in a house fire. The man who was eventually executed for arson and her murder was Leigh's husband, who pleaded his innocence to no avail. It seems that it was the expert testimony of a then-fledgling Saltram that sold the jury on the possibility that Daventry’s husband may have been the guilty party, paving a clear path for Leigh's execution.

Leigh wants the Daventry case reopened to finally vindicate her husband and attempt to untarnish the badly sullied reputation and prejudice with which she and her son have suffered for the past two decades. To do so, Daniel will have to call out Saltram and every single case in which he testified. This is not only potential career suicide for him, but the fallout of such a claim against a well-respected pillar of society might take down everyone close to him in the process. He knows what he is dealing with in Saltram, a cagey and cunning character who will stop at nothing to defend his honor. The one fatal flaw in this novel of the same title may very well be Saltram's vanity, but that does not make Daniel's job any easier.

ONE FATAL FLAW is an outstanding novel that takes the Anne Perry standard of meting out justice while walking that thin line between what is morally and ethically right versus the easy way out. In these troubled times, it was a pleasure to step away for a few hours to spend time with Daniel Pitt. The problems that he faces are enormous and really put into perspective what it means to do the right thing in the face of the pressure society puts on you to keep your head down and go with the flow. It seems like ages ago since the #MeToo movement made headlines, but Perry shrewdly does her best to represent women throughout the book and show their worth in a time when they were still looked at for the most part as second-class citizens.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on April 10, 2020

One Fatal Flaw: A Daniel Pitt Novel
by Anne Perry