An innocent man falsely accused of murder is a staple of suspense fiction. In Life Sentence,
David Ellis provides a briefcase-full of fresh variations on this familiar theme, crafting a tale that delivers many delights and only a few disappointments. Like his first book, the Edgar-winning Line of Vision
, this is a legal thriller, but the setting is refreshingly unusual: the narrator, Jon Soliday, is the chief legal aide to a powerful state senator in an unnamed city that's obviously Chicago. So there's plenty of bare-knuckle political intrigue even before Jon finds himself the main suspect in a murder.
Ellis's prose is sharp, clear, and intelligent, and his cast of characters is vividly varied. The complex plot setup is occasionally clumsy, with loose ends left lying around in the open for too long. But by the end, Ellis has gathered them all in masterfully, not once but several times, as we see the key facts of the case--several murders, a cryptic blackmail note, a long-ago party that ended in tragedy--through completely different lenses, each creating a fresh perspective that points to a completely different culprit. Right up to its socko surprise finish, Life Sentence is an intellectually and emotionally satisfying thrill ride from a promising young writer. --Nicholas H. Allison
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From Publishers Weekly
Ellis follows up the success of his debut legal thriller, the Edgar Award-winning Line of Vision, with an equally intricate and intelligent murder puzzle that feels like it's 100% plot, laid out with clean precision. First-person narrator Jon Soliday, workaholic legal counsel and best friend to state senator Grant Tully, lands in the middle of three homicide mysteries (and an oblique blackmail attempt) in the first 75 pages. First, his protege Bennett Carey shoots an apparent home intruder-in the back. Then, on a mission for Senator Tully, Soliday consults with attorney Dale Garrison on an election issue. Garrison is murdered shortly after the meeting, and Soliday is fingered as the likeliest suspect. Complicating the case is a decades-old secret: in 1979, a teenage Soliday and Tully, on a drunken tear, were involved in a murder that remains unsolved to this day, and the investigation of Garrison's death threatens to blow it open. Ellis couples clear, direct prose with abundant legal detail. Soliday is a laconic and mysterious hero, adding another layer of suspense. The lack of an obligatory love interest is notable. Soliday is divorced and lives with a pair of pampered pugs; brittle ex-wife Tracy blows into the story occasionally to offer moral support but nothing more carnal. What kind of a hero is this Soliday, a successful 30-something with no apparent loved ones? And how reliable a narrator? It's all highly entertaining and full of satisfying twists.
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