Richard North Patterson's legal thrillers are among the very best in a very crowded genre and Conviction, his latest, is surely one of his best. Here are the bare bones two African-American brothers, on death row for 15 years, were convicted of the murder and heinous sexual assault of a nine-year-old girl. Just 59 days before Rennell, the younger brother possibly retarded, brutally abused, wholly dependent on his smarter, crack-dealing brother is to die by lethal injection, his case is taken up by San Francisco lawyer Terri Paget, a fierce opponent of the death penalty. As she works the case, Terri becomes convinced not only of Rennell's innocence, but that he's truly retarded and was framed by his brother's vile cohort. As we follow Terri's battle, much is revealed about our criminal justice system, the intricacies of appeal and the deep divide in the Supreme Court whose thinly veiled justices jockey for power, often forgetting that this case involves a real man with a real life to lose. Patterson does all this with admirable restraint. There are no wild chases, no midnight-hour revelations; there's only the grim reality that merely being innocent may not be enough. Reader Patricia Kalember creates a voice and persona for each character male, female, black and white and does it with consummate compassion and understanding. This is a provocative and unsettling book that, I must admit, left me sobbing.

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