Richard North Patterson has the ability to take a complex controversial subject, put a human face on it and add some good old-fashioned soap opera twists.
You wouldn't think a story with plot points about the Iraq War and post-traumatic stress disorder would leave room for some family melodrama, but Mr. Patterson mixes all this and more into an engrossing tale of current events and family secrets.
Capt. Paul Terry is a lawyer who has only a month left in his U.S. Army service. Soon he'll join a Wall Street firm with a very nice salary, a reward for working hard his adult life and much of his youth. The last thing he needs is to get involved in a complicated court-martial.
But he is assigned to defend Lt. Brian McCarran, a respected young officer who has just returned home from Iraq. He is accused of shooting and killing the commanding officer of his unit in Iraq in the lieutenant's apartment on base in Virginia.
Of course there's more to this story. The commanding officer, Joe D'Abruzzo, is the husband of Kate Gallagher, a lifelong friend of McCarran who is from a long line of military men. His father is Gen. Anthony McCarran, Army chief of staff, Vietnam War veteran and likely candidate for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The general has been Kate's surrogate father since her own died in Vietnam.
And McCarran's protective sister, Meg, also a lawyer, appears on the scene, wanting to take part in her brother's defense.
The accused soldier has no memory of the shooting itself. A changed man since his time in Iraq, he won't talk about the traumatic experiences that may help explain his actions and support a claim of self-defense.
As Terry becomes more involved in the case, he learns how enmeshed the Gallagher and McCarran families have been for decades. Accusations of domestic abuse, adultery and premeditated murder further cloud the situation as does the lawyer's nagging doubt that not everyone is telling the whole truth. Meanwhile, the captain finds himself having feelings for Meg, his co-counsel.
Still, Terry believes in McCarran's innocence and puts his own plans on hold to defend him. As the case unfolds, Mr. Patterson gives the reader a tutorial in military justice as well as the complexities of PTSD. He also makes clear his stand against the war through testimonies from personnel involved with McCarran in Iraq.
The tension rises throughout the court-martial: Will the judge allow PTSD as a defense? Will the jury believe how the war changed not just McCarran, but the man he killed? Will Terry figure out why his gut tells him there is something missing?
Once that missing piece falls into place and the situation becomes clear to Terry, the book fizzles out. Terry's final choice should have been explosive, but instead it comes off like a dud.
Karen Carlin: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2588.