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Fans of early Grisham and Turow will love R. C. O'Leary's gripping legal thriller, HALLWAYS IN THE NIGHT. The story centers on veteran Atlanta police detective Dave Mackno who fatally shoots baseball superstar Remo Centrella (Atlanta's "home run king") during a late-night encounter. Dave claims Remo, souped up on steroids and alcohol, resisted arrest and tried to kill him, forcing Dave to shoot Remo in self-defense. But the prosecution argues that Dave acted irresponsibly, failing to call for back-up and escalating a situation that should never have gotten out of hand. But what happened the night Remo was killed is just the tip of the iceberg. O'Leary's novel masterfully weaves elements of Dave's trial with Atlanta's political shenanigans, racial tensions, as well as an over-extended team owner trying to come to terms with both a crumbling marriage and the devastation of his franchise. What results is an exciting story that would make one fabulous movie.
The best parts of HALLWAYS IN THE NIGHT are its characters, all of which are richly developed and marvelously complex. Dave is a decent guy, but it's not easy being a white cop in an increasingly black Atlanta, especially when he's working in the city's most dangerous district. Up-and-coming prosecutor Maurice Bass is ambitious and ruthless, with an eye on Congress, but he also has a fascinating history - Bass is a black man raised by white adoptive parents who is determined to assert himself as a leader in Atlanta's African American community. And Ray Manning, billionaire owner of the Atlanta Barons, is juggling an oil venture in Canada, escalating debt, a young trophy wife, and a flagging baseball team without its most important player. Ray knows the governor, and the governor knows Maurice Bass - it isn't long before Dave Mackno is on trial for manslaughter and all of Atlanta is in the grip of a media blitz.
The story is crisply paced and beautifully written - never once does this feel like a "self-published" novel. The legal and political maneuverings are as authentic and believable as anything Grisham has come up with. There's a bit of a twist at the end that was totally unexpected - it caught me off guard and left me putting things together in surprising and satisfying ways. I liked the twist - it worked - and that's saying something. Too many novels end with "twists" that just defy credibility. Not so here. The ending is solid, and that's hugely important in a legal thriller - it also sets up the possibility of another Dave Mackno novel, which would be fantastic! I, for one, can't wait!
The one thing I'm not totally sure of is when this story takes place. Dave mentions having been part of the investigation into the Atlanta child murders in the summer of 1980, as well as the Rodney King riots in 1992. At the start of the novel, just before he encounters Remo Centrella, he's listening to Bruce Springsteen tapes on his Walkman - which suggests a mid-1990's timeframe. It's not a big problem with the story, but I did feel a little disoriented at times, wondering how old these characters are and when the action is taking place.
But this is a very minor quibble, because HALLWAYS IN THE NIGHT is a fabulous read. O'Leary had me from the first page, and I literally found myself not wanting to put the book down once the story got going. I highly recommend this novel for anyone who enjoys realistic, complex, exciting legal thrillers. It's a terrific read. And it really would make a great movie!