Joseph Klempner begins his tale of murder and its aftermath by describing its setting a small, ordinary community in upstate New York called Flat Rock. Flat Rock is small enough to fill every public office with volunteers, and small enough to route weekend calls to police headquarters to the Officer on Call. It is through this quite ordinary relay system that Bass McClure, Flat Rock's volunteer Fish and Game Warden, receives a phone call that proves to be less than ordinary.
Jonathan Hamilton a 30-year-old man most of the town charitably calls slow has called to say his grandparents have been hurt. McClure, long familiar with the Hamilton family, arrives at the main house of the estate to find Jonathan rocking, making trapped animals noises, and covered in blood. Saying to Jonathan, Show me, McClure is lead to an upstairs bedroom, two bodies, and a mess of blood. An investigation begins.
The investigation, conducted by McClure and Deke Stanton, turns up what appears to be solid evidence that Jonathan has brutally killed the two people he loves most in the world. Evidence seems to suggest the motive for the murders supposedly committed by a man most would label retarded was greed.
Because a double murder carries a possible death penalty and New York has recently placed special emphasis on cases in which the death penalty applies, the state calls Matthew Fielder to defend Jonathan. A graduate of Death School, and a firm believer that death is different, Fielder collects a team to assist him in developing a defense for what seems indefensible. With the expertise of a private investigator named Gunn and a social worker named Hillary, plus input from Jonathan's family, Fielder makes a decision on how to best defend his client only to find his decision was based on inadequacies and clouded by his own prejudices.
Klempner, who has a background in criminal defense, does the expected, delivering an intriguing look at the nuances of the law; he also delivers the unexpected. He winds his courtroom drama around the landscape, characters, and subplot narratives in the same way a favorite uncle strings together seemingly unrelated anecdotes until, without understanding exactly how it happened, you realize a powerful story has been told and you have learned something in the telling.
Jamie Whitfield is a published author and teacher. She lives in Hendersonville, Tennessee.