Forbes

Thrilling Es­capes from Elec­tions and Covid Woes

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The Last Trial—by Scott Turow (Grand Cen­tral Pub­lish­ing, $29). This le­gal mys­tery tells a fas­ci­nat­ing story smoothly and com­pellingly. Turow de­vel­ops his char­ac­ters in real, mul­ti­di­men­sional ways, turn­ing John Donne’s seem­ing tru­ism that no man is an is­land on its head: We are com­plex in­di­vid­u­als who are in­deed is­lands, of­ten mys­te­ri­ous, even as we in­ter­act with one an­other.

Turow has a gift for por­tray­ing what could be bor­ing court­room pro­ce­du­rals as grip­ping dra­mas. This al­lows him not to stint in lay­ing out the full nar­ra­tive of a com­pli­cated trial. You’ll even get the best quick ex­pla­na­tion of the dif­fer­ences be­tween civil and crim­i­nal cases. His abil­ity to ex­plain ar­cane ma­te­rial in ways that lay peo­ple can read­ily grasp ex­tends, in this case, to the mind-numb­ing pro­ce­dures in­volved in get­ting a drug ap­proved by the FDA. He also in­cludes the per­cep­tive mus­ings of older peo­ple— all too aware of their mor­tal­ity—about what their lives have ac­tu­ally meant and what they have and haven’t achieved. This tale has plenty of sur­prises with up­end­ing twists and turns.

Our pro­tag­o­nist is 85-year-old Ale­jan­dro “Sandy” Stern, who has had a bril­liant ca­reer as a de­fense at­tor­ney. Against the ad­vice of his daugh­ter, who is his law part­ner, and his own in­stincts, Sandy de­cides to take on what he knows will be his last case, the de­fense of a friend, Kiril Pafko, who, like Sandy, is an Ar­gen­tine émi­gré. Also like Sandy, Kiril has achieved great suc­cess. On the sur­face it might seem like Kiril has had even more suc­cess, as years be­fore he won the No­bel Prize in Medicine for a ma­jor break­through in the fight against can­cer.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s case against Pafko looks fiendishly for­mi­da­ble. Pafko and his firm de­vel­oped what ap­peared to be a mir­a­cle an­ti­cancer drug, g-Livia. Af­ter ini­tial suc­cesses in clin­i­cal tri­als, some­thing went dread­fully wrong: Sev­eral pa­tients died sud­denly and in­ex­pli­ca­bly. Pafko is ac­cused of cov­er­ing up the deaths to avoid the FDA’s de­rail­ing ap­proval of his drug. When the Wall Street Jour­nal, act­ing on what ap­peared to be an in­side tip, called Pafko for com­ment on a big story it was pub­lish­ing, Pafko quickly sold mil­lions of dol­lars’ worth of stock in his pub­licly held com­pany be­fore the rev­e­la­tion tanked the eq­uity’s price. Worse, the gov­ern­ment has also charged Pafko with mur­der. A guilty ver­dict would mean that he’ll spend the rest of his life in prison. Stern, how­ever, feels he owes Pafko his own life, as he had a cer­tain­death case of can­cer and was saved by Kiril’s drug.

As the prepa­ra­tions and the trial it­self un­fold, Stern makes dis­con­cert­ing dis­cov­er­ies about his friend, in­clud­ing that Kiril had had two mis­tresses who worked for him, and that Kiril’s son, who also works at the drug firm, har­bors well-hid­den and deeply an­tag­o­nis­tic feel­ings against his fa­ther.

That peo­ple may have tal­ents and at­tributes not read­ily ap­par­ent is ex­em­pli­fied by Stern’s grand­daugh­ter, Pinky—a seem­ing ne’er-do-well, pro­mis­cu­ous and slop­pily dressed 30-yearold—whom Stern, in an act of fam­ily char­ity, em­ploys at his of­fice to do cler­i­cal chores. It turns out that Pinky has in­her­ited her grand­fa­ther’s in­ves­tiga­tive knack. She de­cides to find out what was re­ally be­hind the au­to­mo­bile ac­ci­dent that nearly cost her grand­fa­ther his life when he was de­cid­ing whether or not to take on this case.

A spe­cial treat is Stern’s cross-ex­am­i­na­tion of a hos­tile wit­ness, which starts out dread­fully but turns into an un­ex­pected tri­umph for the de­fense be­cause of the dili­gent dig­ging Pinky has done. All in all, a truly ter­rific read.

Hid from Our Eyes—by Julia SpencerFle­m­ing (Mino­taur Books, $27.99). Talk about life not be­ing easy! Russ van Al­styne is the po­lice chief of a town in up­state New York, Millers Kill, who has a sen­si­tive mur­der on his hands. The body of a nicely dressed young woman has been found on an out-of-the-way road, with no ob­vi­ous signs of foul play. This is eerily sim­i­lar to a killing back in 1972, a case in which Van Al­styne him­self, then a re­cently re­turned and trou­bled Viet­nam vet­eran at loose ends and pos­sess­ing a hair-trig­ger tem­per, be­came the prime sus­pect. He was never charged, but the case has been a weight hang­ing over him ever since. More puz­zling is that this mur­der turns out to be a copy­cat of one com­mit­ted in 1952, which, like the one Russ was tan­gled up in 20 years later, was never solved.

Russ’s wife and cru­cial part­ner is the Rev­erend Clare Fer­gus­son, a for­mer mil­i­tary heli­copter pi­lot. She’s ex­hausted from tak­ing care of their new­born son, cop­ing with parish du­ties and bat­tling—pre­car­i­ously—her pre­vi­ous ad­dic­tions. More­over, she has been pres­sured into tak­ing on an in­tern, who turns out to be trans­gen­der. How are some parish­ioners in this ru­ral area go­ing to re­act?

If all this wasn’t stress­ful enough, there’s a save-the-money move­ment afoot to dis­band Russ’s al­ready un­der­staffed de­part­ment and turn its lawen­force­ment du­ties over to the New York State Po­lice. The is­sue will be on the bal­lot in the up­com­ing elec­tion, which puts even more pres­sure on Russ to solve this dev­il­ishly dif­fi­cult mur­der.

Spencer-Flem­ing skill­fully weaves the nar­ra­tives of the two cold cases with the cur­rent in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Even once ev­ery­thing is solved, the weird cold-blood­ed­ness of what was done will chill you. Jus­tice is served, but the book closes with a no-good-deed-goes-un­pun­ished end­ing that leaves you han­ker­ing for the next in­stall­ment in this se­ries.

 ??  ?? In­tro­duc­ing What’s Ahead
The pod­cast hosted by Steve Forbes. Sub­scribe now on iTunes or GooglePlay Store.
In­tro­duc­ing What’s Ahead The pod­cast hosted by Steve Forbes. Sub­scribe now on iTunes or GooglePlay Store.
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