The Verdict by Nick Stone (Pegasus, Dec. 7th)-I’m a HUGE fan of Nick Stone’s Max Mingus (Mr. Clarinet, etc) series, so I really looked forward to The Verdict. The story is told by Terry Flynt, a clerk at a prominent London law firm. He’s hoping to be promoted to paralegal and go to school to be a lawyer, which the firm will pay for. He’s in his mid thirties, so he’s getting a bit of a late start, and he finds himself ostracized by his colleagues. One particular woman (Terry calls her “Adolf”) gets her kicks by eating his lunch every day (which leads to a very, VERY satisfying scene later in the book, but I digress…) One day, Adolf’s phone rings, and Terry picks it up. It’s a fateful phone call for Terry, because he’s been tapped to work a murder case, and the subject is Vernon James, a childhood friend that betrayed Terry. James has been accused of murdering a woman in his hotel room the night before, after getting an ethics award for his work (ironic, no?) James is very wealthy, and can afford the best lawyers, but Terry is worried that his employers will find out about their history and kick him off the case. They don’t, though, and the game is afoot.
Terry is led on a labyrinthine chase to find a reason that James might be innocent. However, the evidence against him is overwhelming, and as Terry investigates, along with a prickly investigator assigned by the firm, the prosecutor’s case starts coming apart at the seams. Here’s the problem: Terry wants VJ to be guilty. He hates him. Loathes him. He blames VJ for pretty much everything bad that’s happened in his life since he was kicked out of Cambridge. The first scene where Terry meets VJ in the prison for their first interview is good one-VJ shows no sign that he recognizes Terry, and Terry has worked himself up so much for this possible confrontation (not to mention the chance of getting kicked off the case,) that the comedown is powerful. VJ has a lot of demons, and Terry sets out to uncover them, and the man that VJ has become (in spite of what he did to Terry so many years ago) disgusts him. I won’t give details, but needless to say, VJ isn’t a great guy, and his treatment of women is deplorable. But, is he a killer? He claims he’s not, but, like I said, the evidence is pretty compelling. Stone expertly weaves many threads together in this complicated case, and because Terry narrates, we learn things as he does. When the revelations start coming, they come fast. Terry also has to balance his home life with this case, and it’s putting a strain on his marriage, and his relationship with his two kids. It’s safe to say that Terry is under a great amount of pressure, and it’s hard not to root for him. Terry has a few demons himself, and during this case he revisits them, forcing him to take a good hard look at himself, as he’s uncovering VJ’s dark secrets (of which there are many.)
So many times I thought I knew where this story is going, and every time I was wrong. While The Verdict is a fantastic courtroom drama, it’s really about a Terry’s later-in-life coming of age. He must let go of the past to make a future, which means letting go of the hate that’s been festering for so long. This meaty tale clocks in at around 500 pages, but it won’t seem like it. You’ll race through the pages. Promise.