Reckless Disregard (Parker Stern #2), by Robert Rotstein

Nine stars

Robert Rotstein returns with another sensational thriller that is sure to keep the reader hooked until the final page turn. Again mixing the best from legal and courtroom sub-genres, Rotstein provides the reader will a great piece that entertains as well as educates. Parker Stern is still coming to terms with the end result of his last significant case and the fallout that caused the death of a dear friend. Choosing a lighter type of law, he turns to legal mediation, which has all the draw for him of watching beige paint dry. When he is contacted through a messenger program by a computer game developer, he is intrigued by the idea put before him. A new game has just hit the market, one that places William ‘the Conqueror’ Bishop in the middle of the alleged kidnapping and murder of a 1980s movie actress, Paula ‘Felicity’ McGrath. When Bishop finally slaps a libel lawsuit on the developer, who goes by the moniker ‘Poniard’, Stern is ready to do all he can. However, it would seem that Poniard enjoys remaining in the shadows and running the show without regard for commonplace rules. When Stern discovers that he will face-off against his old love interest, Lovely Diamond, he is prepared, though not all that keen. As gamers slowly crack the various levels of this new game, they discover additional clues that tell a twisted backstory of how Bishop might have killed Felicity for his own gains. In a number of ‘user-led levels’, there are scenes of extreme violence that play out in reality, leaving defence witnesses and informants dead. All this is troubling, but nothing more so that learning that the Church of the Sanctified Assembly is involved, a cult with which Stern had an unfortunate connection until his mid-teens. This will be one case that Stern could never have expected handling with a client who refuses to heed legal advice. Might the libel suit be the least of his worries, as those around him turn up dead? Rotstein has done it again with a second stellar piece in collection that has all the elements of a superior series. Highly recommended for those who enjoy novels that test the limits of the legal world.

Rotstein has a wonderful way of not only presenting a case with legal implications, but also offering believable arguments during that journey inside the courtroom, unique for writers of the genre. The story is complex and nuanced in its discussion of key legal elements, but written in such a way that the reader wants to come back to learn more. Parker Stern remains a strong character, exhibiting much more than a great legal mind. Those who read the series debut will remember mention of his early years as a child film actor and more recent debilitating stage fright in the courtroom. With these still part of the backstory, Rotstein pushes a new angle, the struggle for Stern to discover what happened to sour his romantic relationship with Lovely Diamond, another key player in the opening novel. As Stern picks up the pieces from that failed romantic period, he is forced to wrap his head around a new form of legal matter with a client that he cannot control, particularly because they remain in the ether of cyberspace. Working with the limited information he has, Stern will do his best, though is blindsided at numerous times throughout the piece. Stern uses his strongest legal maneuvers to keep the reader entertained, even if it will not be enough. There are a handful of other characters who shape the story, including the aforementioned Lovely Diamond, who continues to work diligently within the parameters of the law. William Bishop also proves to be an interesting character, with a long history in the movie industry. Poniard is able to extract many interesting tidbits to keep the reader wondering how countless interactions between Stern and Bishop will play out. The story of this book is anything but simple, yet Rotstein makes it easily palatable without watering down the arguments, particularly with the use of a video game and an elusive defendant. The reader must buckle down to take part in this fast-paced thriller, which touches on a number of legal and personal issues simultaneously. I can see a great deal of interest coming from these books by those who enjoy the theme and hope the third novel in this series offers up another sensational story.

Kudos, Mr. Rotstein, for a great continuation to this series. I’ll be sure to recommend it to others as I wrap my head around all you had to say.

\A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: