(Reviewed by Judi Clark AUG 01, 2002)
"The prosecution's case was simple: Jeremy Fullerton had been killed by a bullet fired at close range from a handgun found on the sidewalk next to the defendant after the defendant had been shot by the police. Nothing could be more straightforward. It had taken only seven witnesses and less than three days of testimony. I had not asked a single question."
US Senator Jeremy Fullerton is making a run for the job of Governor of California, campaigning against a popular incumbent and gaining in the polls. He may even beat the governor. But this is just a stepping-stone in Fullerton's career. If he wins this one, he'll then run against another popular incumbent, the President of the United States. Many think he'll succeed because he has the financial backing of one Lawrence Goldman --- a behind the scenes money guy from one of San Francisco's influential old families.
But one foggy night, Senator Fullerton is shot to death during an apparent robbery while sitting in his parked car. This was after a successful rally at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco and then a high-ticket fund raiser at Lawrence Goldman's home. Political motive to kill Senator Fullerton is far from lacking, those who would benefit range from the Governor of the California up to the President of the United States. And on a personal level there is motive, it is possible that even the Senator's wife might have wanted him dead. Yet, the papers are satisfied to report this incident, sadly, as one more random act of violence.
As well as it seems to be. Responding to the sound of gunshot, a police cruiser finds its way in the fog to the Senator's parked car. There they see a bloody head of a man in the driver's seat. While her fellow senior officer goes to investigate, the rookie officer sees a black man flee from the car, and for a moment the fog lifts allowing her to see him turn and face her with a gun. She shoots to neutralize the threat. Thus, Jamaal Washington, recovering from the gunshot wound, stands accused of murdering the high-profile Senator Fullerton. And no one in San Francisco is interested in defending this young man. Enter Joseph Antonelli.
Antonelli lives in Portland, Oregon but his mother's family is from San Francisco and as such he is very comfortable with "the city." It is through his cousin Bobby's law firm that he is recruited to defend Jamaal. Albert Craven, the senior partner, knows the mother of the accused and although he hasn't met the young man, he does not believe this woman would raise a son that would commit a crime. So for an outrageous retainer fee, Antonelli takes the job from Craven.
Upon interviewing Jamaal, Antonelli confirms the man is innocent, but also can see that the case is nearly hopeless; there is no doubt that all the circumstantial evidence will point to a guilty verdict. Naturally, Antonelli's strategy is to come up with a credible suspect to provide the jury with sufficient reasonable doubt against his client. And it seems that everyone that he meets does offer up opinions and bits of personal history, turning this case into a gossipy political intrigue (enjoyable), but getting Antonelli no closer to finding someone to put up on the stand to help defend his client.
Early on Antonelli attends a dinner party hosted by Craven. One of the guests is a Russian who publicly defected and is rumored to be ex-KGB or an ex-spy. This Andrei Bogdonovitch makes for a lively dinner guest as he challenges the Americans on whether or not there can be a random of act of violence when a politician is involved. Certainly this goes against the way a Russian would think since they would not leave history to chance. I found this point quite interesting; that our abundance of random violence makes us unique in that it is entirely credible that a Senator could die from a bungled burglary and we'd think nothing of it, more than the usual cry over such incidents.
On the other hand, we Americans never pass up on a good conspiracy theory either, once one is generated. So during jury selection, Antonelli makes a radical move to hang his defense strategy on conspiracy. But what starts off as a strategy, begins to look like a probability. But the more probable, the less he has to work with. For a hotshot defense attorney, he sure does a lousy job on this one. He knows he is missing something that he can't see. He's waiting to connect; we're waiting for him to connect. There are moments when it seems he might have the key to winning the case, but he stalls. Some might fault the novel for this; but I didn't see it that way. Without clever heroics, the courtroom scenes felt more like a case that could happen.
And I can see why this case is so hard to present. Though he learns a lot, little has to do with saving Jamaal. As I mentioned the plot twists around the notion of legacy. From the opening paragraph, Antonelli tells us how he discovers that his father is not his father. Seeded throughout the novel are an array of paternity issues; a man who can't have children, a man that gives life to an illegitimate son, a father forced to walk away from his real son and, finally, a false paternity claim. Grandfathers, fathers, sons... Fortunes earned and fortunes given away, just one act can change a family's future and community standing. To protect or create legacy seems to know no bounds. In the middle of all of these maneuverings is one young (fatherless) black man who is standing trial because he stopped to help someone on his way home from work. We don't even here from him accept for a couple interviews and his court appearances. This is obviously not a story about Jamaal.
I enjoyed the novel for its rather intelligent approach to the story and to the characters. I also liked its setting. At one point I spent a lot of time in San Francisco, so this felt like a refresher trip. I have to add in one more bit of praise: this author managed to get through a budding relationship without a single sex scene. I think it is refreshing to have an author handle romance totally outside the bedroom.
D.W. Buffa may be another lawyer writing fiction, but he is good at it. He has created a realistic defense lawyer in Joseph Antonelli. It wasn't until I put this page together did I realize that this is not a standalone mystery. This makes sense in hindsight because the novel skips over a lot of Antonelli's past providing us only with the highlights necessary to the story. Mind you, Antonelli stood well on his own and I didn't need more than I was given to believe him as he narrated the story. On the other hand, knowing he has a past and a present is rewarding. Count me in as a fan.
- Amazon readers rating: from 15 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from The Legacy at MostlyFiction.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- The Defense (1997)
- The Prosecution (1999)
- The Judgement (2001)
- The Legacy (August 2002)
- Star Witness (April 2003)
- Breach of Trust (May 2004)
- Trial by Fire (April 2005)
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- Official website for D.W. Buffa
- The Mystery Reader review of The Defense
- RebeccaReads.com review of The Judgement
- RebeccaReads.com review The Legacy
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About the Author:
D. W. Buffa was born in San Francisco and raised in the Bay area. After graduation from Michigan State University, he studied under Leo Straus, Joseph Cropsey and Hans J. Morganthau at the University of Chicago, where he earned botha an M.A. and Ph.D in Polictical Science. He went on to work for several years for the late Senator from Michigan, Phil Hart. He received his J.D. degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. He was a criminal defense attorney for seven years, reflected in his Joseph Antonelli character.
D.W. Buffa lives in Northern California.