Go to Homepage   John Lescroart : The Mercy Rule

 

Delacorte Press (Hardcover), ISBN 0-385-31658-5

The Mercy Rule promises to be a good book -- a legal thriller that takes on the ambiguous issues of mercy killing and assisted suicide. Promises are often broken, however, and I found The Mercy Rule to be a major disappointment. 

The outline sounds great. Sal Russo, suffering from Alzheimer's Disease and a brain tumor, is found dead in his apartment, evidently as a result of a morphine overdose. But there is evidence of a struggle, and ultimately Russo's son Graham is brought to trial for murder. Did Graham do it? If so, was it with a compassionate heart or with an eye on Sal's stash of $50,000? And if Graham didn't murder Sal, who did? Defense attorney Dismas Hardy grapples with these questions as he and homicide detective Sarah Evans try to keep Graham from spending the rest of his life in prison. 

Hardy, who appeared in another book by Lescroart, is a strong character. He tries to juggle priorities, to be a good father and husband while being true to himself, and to do justice to his client. Clever and caring, he proves impossible not to like. 

Which makes the sight of him busting his butt for a loutish twit like Graham Russo so darn annoying. I last slapped a person decades ago, right before my little brother figured out not to mess with my Barbies ™, but if Graham Russo were real, I'd be tempted to break my nonviolent streak and smack him hard. 

Lescroart assumes the reader will want Graham to get off, whereas I kept thinking Graham should be imprisoned for his own protection. What can you say about someone who graduated at the top of his law school class and yet stupidly spends seven hours getting drunk with a tape-recorder-toting journalist?  

Graham lies to Hardy (who deserves better) and the smitten Sarah (who would have been better off with a bag of Doritos and a cat). During the trial, Graham gives the finger to the prosecuting attorney and makes oafish, unfunny jokes at the expense of one of his defense attorneys. Graham never apologizes. He seems to expect everyone to break their backs on his behalf, and he takes every opportunity to remind other characters how smart he is. Yeah, right. Go try and sell your bridge somewhere else, Graham. 

There's a good book buried deep in the 466 pages of The Mercy Rule. Most of the other characters are well-drawn, and the dynamic between Sarah and her partner on the homicide squad might have been fun to read more about. Deeper probing of the issues surrounding assisted suicide and mercy killing would have made for a stronger book. A worthy client -- one who could match wits with a grapefruit -- might have allowed Dismas Hardy more of a chance to shine. But that's not the book we've got here. 

Elizabeth Sheley

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