What would happen to the legal system if suddenly every defendant demanded a trial by jury? With over 90% of cases settled by plea bargain agreements, if defendants were no longer willing to work out a deal, it would literally bring the legal system to a halt. This is the scenario Randy Singer presents in his latest legal thriller, The Last Plea Bargain.
Every judge and defense attorney that works in the Milton County Judicial system knows Jamie Brock (from False Witness) does not make plea bargains. She works hard to ensure her cases go to trial. A strong victim advocate, she excels at her job, but recently her personal life has taken a downward turn. Her father is in a vegetative state and Antoine Marshall, the man who murdered her mother twelve years ago, is scheduled to be executed soon. Adding to her stress is the alluring possibility of convicting Caleb Tate (the man who represented Antoine) of murdering his wife Rikki. However, with little evidence against Caleb and the possibility of corruption within the investigation, the prospect of a conviction is uncertain. With abundant twists and turns, The Last Plea Bargain is a riveting legal drama from one of the best authors in genre.
I have been anxiously waiting for this book for the last 18 months. I first heard about it during our interview with Randy for his last book, Fatal Convictions. The consequences of criminals bogging down the justice system by refusing to plea bargain sounded like an excellent premise for a novel. As it turns out, this aspect is a relatively minor, though integral portion of a much larger story, which sets the stage for a chain of events that make this book an intense, masterful legal thriller.
The Last Plea Bargain has several plots and within each plot are several smaller plots that make for a fantastic multi-layered novel. Jamie is struggling through a variety of emotional issues ranging from her father's condition to the bitterness and anger she feels towards Antoine and Caleb. Her open hostility does a nice job of keeping the reader off balance and preventing them from conclusively determining Caleb's guilt. Additionally, Jamie is working through issues related to her father's reputation and questions concerning Antoine's conviction. Jamie's boss, Bill Masterson, is running for Attorney General of Georgia and his campaign and politics continue to hamper the case's progress. Also lurking in the background is the struggle by Antoine's new lawyer, Mace James, to prevent his execution. All these storylines are related and I loved watching them all come together.
One of my favorite aspects of Singer's novels is his remarkable ability to integrate spiritual themes and difficult moral issues. In almost every book, I've been challenged by the different views that Singer presents. In most cases, he remains neutral, which allows for the reader to better evaluate their own preconceived ideas and perhaps gain a new perspective. In this book, I like that Singer challenged my die-hard, pro-death penalty stance. I didn't change my opinion, but I do see the points that were made in opposition to capital punishment. Additionally, I appreciate the straightforward reminders of justice and mercy. While never preachy, this book does an excellent job of presenting spiritual themes and pointing the reader to the ultimate Judge.
Sometimes I feel like a broken record, but I'll say it again anyway--for those who enjoy legal thrillers, Randy Singer is the author to check out. His novels are fun, insightful, complex, intelligent stories which are meticulously researched and developed. After impatiently waiting 18 months to read The Last Plea Bargain, I was not disappointed!
Review title provided courtesy of Tyndale