Monday, January 21, 2013

"Dark Lady" by Richard North Patterson

Stella Marz is the Assistant County Prosecutor, with a firm eye on landing the role of County Prosecutor should her boss Arthur Bright be elected Mayor. He's opposed to the construction of Steelton, a ballpark stadium that the current Mayor is assuring people will bring money back into their depressed city.

When she is assigned the homicide of high-profile lawyer Jack Novak, who represented known drug users and pushers, she is determined that there will not be a conflict of interest because of the fact she had an intense sexual relationship with him over a decade earlier when she worked for him. But even after all this time, the relationship has left its mark on her, and the nature of his murder is especially gruesome and kinky. Her other case involves the suspicious drug overdose of clean-cut Tommy Fielding, who was a project manager on the Steelton construction.

Stella begins digging into Jack's old cases to see if there are any potential enemies who wanted him dead. She stumbles across several cases that were never successfully prosecuted - evidence went missing, witnesses were murdered - and suspects that Jack was involved in some sort of conspiracy headed by mob kingpin Vincent Moro. Even worse, it seems that there could be a connection between Jack and Tommy's deaths. Her investigation puts her own life in peril.

If you can stick with it, Dark Lady is a fairly involving political conspiracy thriller. Unfortunately, you have to wade through a lot of city history and plot exposition to get to the good bits. The opening chapters are especially dull. Patterson spends waaaaaay too much time describing history (how the city was founded, who founded it, how it's changed etc) rather than jacking up the intensity of the plot. For far too long, I didn't feel any sense of urgency or suspense to the proceedings. Patterson also goes into lengthy details about finances, dummy corporations, political ploys, character motivations, without tagging them to an exciting, fast-paced storyline.

The other big drawback is the fact that no secret is made over Vincent Moro somehow being involved in the conspiracy, yet he is conspicuously absent from pretty much the entire novel. How are we supposed to be in fear of a character we are barely ever introduced to and never get to know? The story becomes more of a "how-dunnit", as there is a surprisingly small number of characters populating the novel. This also results in few plot surprises as the true culprits and the extent of their collusion are revealed.

Nevertheless, Dark Lady is a bit of a welcome departure from dry police procedurals and dopey romantic thrillers. The plot, despite the lack of true suspense or surprises, is complex and well-constructed. Events all tie up reasonably well at the end. Despite the excess of exposition and history, I kept going back to it to find out how it all finished.

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