The Hidden Man
A Jason Kolarich Mystery by David Ellis
Review: Edgar Award-winning author David Ellis introduces his first series character, attorney Jason Kolarich, who is coerced into defending his childhood best friend accused of murder, in the elegantly crafted legal thriller The Hidden Man.
Kolarich is retained by a "Mr. Smith" to defend Sammy Cutler, accused of murdering the man who he believed abducted and killed his 2-year-old sister 27 years ago. Smith has no obvious connection to Sammy, but has the financial resources to get, and keep, Jason's attention. The only requirement: the trial must begin within 4 weeks. Jason doesn't believe he can do it, and starts to get creative with Sammy's defense. Smith doesn't agree with Jason's tactics, and applies pressure on Kolarich to "stick to [his] role", as if he's merely a bit player in a crime drama. That pressure initially takes the form of framing Jason's brother Peter for dealing drugs, but when Jason gets him off, Smith kidnaps Peter and threatens to kill him. Jason doesn't understand why Smith, and whoever he's fronting, is determined to get Sammy tried so quickly — "Why did they wait until one month before his trial to show up? And why are they so concerned about this trial happening on schedule?" — but concludes there must be some history here … maybe as far back as the murder of Sammy's little sister.
Much of the strength in The Hidden Man comes from Jason's character, his role as a defense attorney, and the strategies he employs to win the case against his client. He's quite pragmatic about it, as shown in this passage from early in the book:
Much of what we do, to a layperson, is counterintuitive. A guy gets caught with a kilo of cocaine in his basement and the first thing we argue is that the evidence should not be admitted, because of a Fourth Amendment violation. A guy confesses to a crime and the first thing we argue is that the jury shouldn't hear the confession, courtesy of the Fifth Amendment. We try shaky defenses like temporary insanity or play the race card, anything plausible to free our client. People will carp and moan about every single attorney on the face of the earth except for one — their own, if they ever need one, in which case their view of the Bill of Rights becomes infinitely more expansive.
Despite the odds against him, Jason proceeds on his independent path to free Sammy. "I was a competitor," he says. "I wanted to win and I enjoyed the thrill of battle." It's a thrill of a ride for the reader, too.
The only minor quibble here is the frequent detours into Jason's past. He blames himself for not being a better brother to Peter, a better friend to Sammy, and a better husband and father to his wife and child, who were recently killed in an car crash. True, these backstories add depth to Jason's character, and obviously have a profound impact on how he's managing his life today, but the point is abundantly clear the first few times it's made; it doesn't need to be repeatedly emphasized.
Still, the character of Jason Kolarich and the elegance of the plot elevate The Hidden Man to the top tier of legal thrillers. The twists the case takes are unexpected, the misdirection subtly introduced, and the conclusion brilliantly conceived. It is strongly and enthusiastically recommended.
Acknowledgment: Penguin Group provided an ARC of The Hidden Man for this review.
Review Copyright © 2009 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …
The Last Alibi
Putnam (Hardcover), September 2009
ISBN-13: 9780399158803; ISBN-10: 0399158804
Location(s) referenced in The Hidden Man: Midwest
— ♦ —
The Hidden Man by David Ellis — A Jason Kolarich Mystery
Publication Date: September 2009
List Price: $25.95
— ♦ —
Page Author: Lance Wright
Site Publisher: Mysterious Reviews
Mysterious Reviews is a Division of
The Hidden Staircase Mystery Books
and a Business Unit of the
Omnimystery Family of Mystery Websites