ne of the most remarkable things about the latest entry in John Lescroart's series of legal thrillers featuring San Francisco attorney Dismas Hardy is the utter freshness of the material. Through a half dozen outings (The 13th Juror, The Mercy Rule), Lescroart has managed to keep his regular characters three-dimensional and consistently interesting. In The Hearing, the characters that have populated Lescroart's previous novels find new intrigue in the political and social worlds of San Francisco.

When a prominent black San Francisco attorney is found murdered, the key suspect is a homeless heroin addict found at the scene holding the gun and her jewelry. Because it is an election year, the politically ambitious and ruthless District Attorney Sharron Pratt decides to press for the death penalty to reverse her soft-on-crime image. The suspect's brother is a close friend of Lescroart's suave Irish lawyer, and against his better judgment, Dismas Hardy is persuaded to take the case.

As he digs into the evidence, trying to find a way to spare his client's life, Hardy finds the case has strange ties to other political and legal goings-on in the city. An almost incestuous relationship between business, the prosecutor's office and the murder victim has Hardy wondering, in spite of damning physical evidence, if his client actually had anything to do with the murder. The cop on the case, the black Jewish detective Abe Glitsky, who has reasons of his own for seeing the killer receive ultimate justice, also begins to have doubts about the guilt of the accused. Together, he and Hardy try to unravel the truth from a thicket of corruption and venality. Lescroart's story is enriched by a careful rendering of the city that gives his legal thrillers a special flair. Even with a sharply disapproving portrait of corruption in city politics, Lescroart's love of San Francisco comes through on every page.

With plenty of legal twists and turns, The Hearing will be an irresistible read for Lescroart's legion of fans and all those who appreciate a well-crafted courtroom drama.

Michael Grollman is a freelance writer in New Jersey.

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