John Lescroart's latest has all the makings of a great thriller: breakneck pacing, electrifying courtroom scenes and a cast of richly crafted characters. There's the protagonist, a cunning San Francisco attorney named Mark Dooher, who may be ruthless enough to murder anyone who gets in his way; his pursuer, Detective Abe Glitsky, who tracks Dooher while exploring his own guilt over his wife's death from cancer; Wes Farrell, Dooher's ne'er-do-well best friend, who is vainly battling his own sense of failure; and Christina Carrera, a young attorney emotionally scarred by an ex-lover's betrayal, who is pursued, sexually, by the charismatic Dooher.
In the end, although Lescroart has seduced us with vivid scenes and neatly dispensed clues, we are left flat. Unable to wrap up the inherently messy question of legal versus moral guilt, the author lets his once-taut tale deteriorate into movie-of-the-week melodrama. The real guilty party here is the author, for wasting so promising a premise. (Delacorte, $24.95)