Picks and Pans Review: Degree of Guilt

updated 01/18/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/18/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Richard North Patterson

America's most famous writer, Mark Ransom, is lying dead on the floor of a San Francisco hotel suite, his pants at his ankles. One of America's most famous TV newswomen, Mary Carelli, admits she shot him—as he tried to rape her. The D.A. wishes the whole mess would go away, particularly because of a politically explosive X-rated audiocassette found at the scene. But there are more holes in Mary's story than in Mark's chest—which means she will have to call on one reluctant but supremely motivated lawyer: Christopher Paget, the ex-lover who is raising her teenage son.

And the game is just beginning in Patterson's Degree of Guilt, the most compulsively readable courtroom thriller since Scott Throw's Presumed Innocent. In his fifth novel, Patterson, a San Francisco litigator and former SEC liaison to the Watergate Special Prosecutor's Office, has constructed a Chinese box of a puzzler, where one mystery is penetrated only to reveal another. The intricate plot—at times a little too convoluted—is just one of the elements that separates this from a predictable he-said, she-said battle of the sexes. There are also the characters, among them women of a variety and complexity not often encountered in page turners.

Finally what distinguishes Guilt is its smarts, its attitude. The legal system can be a cat-and-mouse game, and too often, Patterson demonstrates, what matters is not the truth but merely what can be proved. (Knopf, $23)

From Our Partners