William Bernhardt’s latest novel to feature Oklahoma trial attorney Ben Kincaid shakes things up a bit by relocating the hero from the Great Plains to the nation’s Beltway (at least temporarily). Senator Todd Glancy, a law school classmate of Kincaid’s, becomes embroiled in a sex scandal that leads to murder charges. And Glancy turns to Ben to save the day – or at least save him from the slammer.
Glancy, a prospective presidential candidate, is publicly embarrassed by the release of a “sex tape” that captures him with a young congressional intern. What seems to be largely consensual at the outset of the video seemingly becomes a little less so as it progresses, although Glancy argues later that the young lady liked to “pretend” she was being compelled against her wishes. The resulting media firestorm causes Glancy to think he might need his own legal team – and there’s nothing like having a straight-arrow from your home state with a sterling reputation for painful honesty on your side.
Unfortunately for all concerned, as Kincaid and his partner, Christina McCall, receive their tour of Capitol Hill, the body of Veronica Cooper, the young intern, in found in a secret Senate office. She’s been discarded on Glancy’s favorite “couch,” her throat slashed. Glancy is quickly arrested as the only likely suspect, and Kincaid is suddenly representing a client charged with first degree murder amid the glare and spectacle of the nation’s capital. While Kincaid’s private investigator tracks down a few stray leads that might offer a glimmer of hope, the evidence against Glancy continues to mount. While the only evidence that he is a murderer is circumstantial, there is plenty of damning testimony regarding his exploits as something of a sexual predator.
With Glancy’s own power-hungry wife (who is measuring her own reactions to the revelations by reference to opinion polls and her own potential bid for public office) harboring secrets of her own, Kincaid desperately tries to demonstrate his client’s innocence – even as he himself begins to doubt it. Meanwhile, however, his investigator falls deeper into the rabbit hole funhouse of an underground world of Goths, sadomasochists, and self-proclaimed vampires in search of the secrets behind Victoria’s death, secrets someone is willing to kill to hide.
Kincaid and McCall are an entertaining couple, albeit not nearly as colorful as the bantering pair of Solomon and Lord created recently by Paul Levine. Their entry into the Bizzaro world of politics gives Bernhardt an opportunity for some humorous jabs at much of the sound-bite syndrome that seems to permeate contemporary life, skewering in the process the many ways in which media manipulation structures everything from press conferences, arrests, arraignments, and even trial testimony, all posed for maximum exposure. And it also conjures up visions of impeachment trials, blue dresses, cigars, and lengthy searches for the bodies of young congressional interns. Bernhardt’s decision to add the ghoulish sensationalism of the Goth/vampire scene is perhaps a bit over the top, but it makes for impressive melodrama nonetheless.
Two relatively minor quibbles mar the legal proceedings depicted in the book. At one point, Bernhardt references the Second Amendment in connection with protection against searches and seizures; the Second Amendment is actually the infamous “right to bear arms” section of the Bill of Rights, and the protection against unreasonable searches and seizures is found in the Fourth Amendment (no need to examine the penumbra of said Amendment at this time). Second, despite the fact that the prosecutor in Glancy’s murder trial is an otherwise excellent attorney, he fails to object to rank hearsay at the end of the book. Of course, a hearsay objection never derailed Matlock either, so I expect there’s little reason to let that concern diminish one’s enjoyment of the book (although the ending may well be a bit much for some readers unable to suspend disbelief as far as Bernhardt might like). Fans of the series will undoubtedly find Capitol Murder a rewarding addition to the collection.