A fifty-year old writer named Stuart Gorman is "The Suspect" in John Lescroart's engrossing new thriller. Gorman's marriage to his wife of twenty-two years, Caryn Dryden, had been in trouble for quite a while. She was a brilliant and upwardly mobile orthopedic surgeon whose workaholic lifestyle did not mesh well with her husband's. A few days after Caryn asks Stuart for a divorce, she is found dead in her hot tub, a possible homicide victim. At his own admission, Stuart flew into a rage when Caryn insisted that their marriage was over. However, he denies having any role in his wife's death, claiming that at the time Caryn was killed, he was staying in his rustic cabin where he went to think things over. Upon his return, he found his wife's body and promptly called the police. Unfortunately, Inspector Sergeant Devin Juhle doesn't buy Stuart's story. After all, Gorman had motive and opportunity: he was clearly furious at his wife (who was insured for three million dollars), and his alibi is shaky. An eyewitness claims that she saw his car pull into his garage around the time that Caryn was killed.
Squarely on Stuart's side are his sister-in-law, the beautiful Debra Dryden, and Kymberly, Stuart's troubled eighteen-year-old daughter. The suspect also has an old friend, San Francisco State Assemblyman Jedd Conley, who convinces Stuart to hire criminal defense attorney Gina Roarke to represent him. Until now, Gina played a secondary role in Lescroarts novels. The main characters have usually been criminal defense lawyer Dismas Hardy and his best friend, Abe Glitsky, deputy chief of inspectors in the San Francisco Police Department. Now, forty-seven year old Roarke takes center stage and she is an appealing heroine. Still grieving over the death of her lover, the charismatic David Freeman, Gina finds herself at loose ends. She has difficulty concentrating on work and is reluctant to start dating again. However, taking on Stuart Gorman's case gives Gina the mental and emotional boost that she needs. She is soon convinced that her client is innocent, and she tackles his case with a tenacity and passion that she hasn't felt in years. The reader cannot help but root for Gina Roarke, who is handling her first homicide case and feels nervous and insecure about her ability to get her client off. Gina faces formidable obstacles, including an ambitious assistant DA eager to nail Gorman, and voracious reporters who are quick to try Stuart's case in the press.
Lescroart's cast of characters is varied and well-drawn. Wyatt Hunt, the chief investigator in Gina's law firm, is smart, funny, and supportive, and he capably handles most of the legwork for Gina. Devin Juhle is a dogged cop who stubbornly refuses to chase any leads that point to a suspect other than Gorman. One possible area of inquiry is Caryn's invention, known as the Dryden socket, which she created to repair hip joints. Caryn was about to withdraw the socket because of safety concerns shortly before the FDA was scheduled to grant its approval. Taking the socket off the market would have cost investors a great deal of money. Could this possibly have been a motive for murder? Before he is placed under arrest, Gorman decides to track down and interview some of Caryn's associates to learn more about what was going on in her life in the weeks before she was killed.
"The Suspect" is tightly written, carefully plotted, and fast-paced. It has beautifully written dialogue and a few welcome moments of humor to lighten the mood. Lescroart skillfully examines the psyches of his main characters and exposes the feelings that they keep hidden from public view. He also focuses on the unsavory aspects of human nature, such as duplicity, greed, and ambition, which often lead to violence. The courtroom scenes are compelling and the suspense builds steadily until a series of twists and turns brings the story to a slightly contrived but still satisfying resolution. Giving Gina Roarke her own novel was a smart move; she brings new life to a long-running series that had begun to show signs of age.