Trial by Fire (Joseph Antonelli #7), by D.W. Buffa

Seven stars

Just when you thought D.W. Buffa might have run out of ideas, he comes up with another stunner to keep the reader—and Joseph Antonelli—on their toes. Having basked in the limelight for many years, Joseph Antonelli is much pickier when it comes to the cases he will take. Instead, he is happy to stay in his corner office at the San Francisco law firm he calls home and watch the legal world spin on its head. When he is approached by one of the partners, asking him to appear on television, Antonelli is not quite sure that he’s game. However, when one of the firm’s clients owns a network with a top-rated legal talk show, one must sometimes accept the pressure. While on a panel discussing a current homicide trial, Antonelli meets Daphne McMillan, a lawyer in the D.A.’s office, and Julian Sinclair, a brilliant law professor whose knowledge of criminal proceedings is second to none. Sinclair comes off as quite docile, but there is a spark within him, so much so that Antonelli convinces him to join the firm. When Sinclair calls Antonelli one night, it is anything but a social call. He woke to find a murdered Daphne McMillan in his home. While they were having an affair, Sinclair denies that he was involved and requests Antonelli’s assistance. In whirlwind fashion, the trial is upon them, though media outlets have wasted little time passing judgment on Julian Sinclair. As Antonelli tries to put forth a defense and narrow in on the repulsive way Mrs. McMillan’s husband treats women, it all falls on deaf ears. Trial in the court of public opinion seems to be the only place justice is being heard. Angered by the farce, Antonelli works to find a new way to bring truth to the headline grabbers, though he will have to be conniving and convincing in equal measure. Buffa takes the legal thriller theme and expands it in this piece, which pushes Joseph Antonelli to his limits. Recommended for series fans who have enjoyed the collection to date, as well as readers who find unique thrillers to their liking.

I have enjoyed binge reading this series by D.W. Buffa, particularly as he uses his protagonist to push the envelop a little further than might normally be expected. These are a wonderfully complex set of novels that pit the protagonist against a legal world that has embittered him over the decades. Antonelli has become a celebrity in the legal world, which leads him to become more choosy with the cases he agrees to defend. Added to that, he comes to terms with the fact that no one wants to sit through a trial when there are talking heads who will dice and splice before delivering the verdict that everyone ought to accept. Antonelli wrestles with this throughout, though is able to use traditional lawyering to make sense of it all. Older and more job-focussed, the reader does not get the energetic lawyer that many have come to expect. Others make one-off appearances, even with Antonelli home in San Francisco. Some may have hoped for more of a homecoming theme, with recognizable names and characters, but that is surely not the case here. The story followed much of the same recipe as in past novels, but did not seem to come across as effective as in the past. The trial—usually a central focus—is almost a forced hurdle in the middle of the novel and there is little spark in the courtroom. I was disappointed with this, though one might expert that Buffa wanted to turn to other projects and needed an effective way to end Joseph Antonelli’s legal career. That being said, Joseph Antonelli does make a return (call it an eight book?) in Necessity, which returns the protagonist to his wonderful role as defense attorney. An interesting progression in the series, though I was not entirely convinced of its effectiveness. I would recommend readers begin at the start of this series and not use this novel as a litmus test for others.

Kudos, Mr. Buffa, for keeping Joseph Antonelli fresh and exciting, though perhaps it is time that he hang up his wing-tips.

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