Picks and Pans Review: Hostile Witness

updated 05/22/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/22/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by William Lashner

Okay, let's begin with the prosecution's case against this first novel, a legal thriller by yet another lawyer turned author. If not for the existence of stereotypes, Lashner would have a hard time populating Hostile Witness. The Jewish private eye spouts Yiddish, the Mafia don has a pitted face, an Old World accent and a passion for cannoli. The WASPs are cold, thin-lipped and arrogant. And while Lashner is a lawyer, he never heard the word brief, and often he writes with relentless floridity. Exhibit A: " Its scent lay fetid in the air, rotten, musked, overpoweringly seductive like the juice of a strange woman."

Now let's hear from the defense. Lashner has fashioned a propulsive story centering on Victor Carl, a two-bit schlub of a Philadelphia lawyer who spends his days collecting debts for relatives. Inexplicably, Carl is recruited to serve as outside counsel for one of the blue-chip law firms he has long aspired to join. The job: representing one Chester Concannon, who is on trial for extortion and murder.

The terms: $250 an hour, a high profile with more fame and fat fees forthcoming if Vic does precisely as instructed. This is quite tempting for a guy whose only other brush with the big time was "watching the parade go by when the Phillies won it all in 1980." But in taking on the case, Carl learns he has made a deal with the devil. Hostile Witness has a good, gritty feel and a sardonic, Sammy Click protagonist who grows on you and who'll be appearing in the sequel. No objections. (Regan-Books, $23)

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