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Onyx reviews: The Second Chair by John Lescroart

The Second Chair is John Lescroart's newest legal thriller featuring lawyer Dismas Hardy and San Francisco cop Abe Glitsky. Neither character is doing well when the story opens. Both are struggling to recover emotionally from the concluding events of the previous book, The First Law, which Lescroart (pronounced "les-kwa") has his characters summarize for newcomers to the series.

Hardy isn't practicing much real law since becoming his firm's managing partner and he's starting to worry about how much he drinks during lunch these days. Glitsky suffers stress-related illnesses while regretting the fact that his new position as deputy chief of investigations keeps him at arm's length from the work he loves the most: solving challenging crimes.

Amy Wu, an associate in Hardy's law firm, is hired to defend Andrew Bartlett, the seventeen-year-old son of a wealthy couple accused of killing his girlfriend and their drama teacher. When Wu sees how much evidence the prosecutors have amassed, her concern over Andrew's innocence or guilt becomes secondary. Instead, she concentrates her efforts on keeping him in the juvenile court system, where the most he can serve is eight years. If he is tried as an adult and convicted, he faces life without parole.

Wu arranges a deal with the prosecutor whereby Andrew will do the full eight years in juvenile detention if he confesses to the murders. She thinks it's a win-win situation for everyone. Andrew stays out of adult prison and can return to normal life when he's twenty-five, and the prosecutor, who is gearing up for a reelection campaign, gets to clear two murders from the books.

Wu is only half paying attention to her work. Struggling to cope with grief after her father's death, she stays out late drinking and picking up men in singles bars. She's called in sick to work frequently and is far behind on her quota of billable hours. She doesn't consult her client before negotiating the deal and is caught unprepared when Andrew refuses to confess during the hearing.

Relations between Wu and the prosecutor become antagonistic. The prosecutor immediately asks for a new hearing to have Andrew tried as an adult and the judge looks favorably upon this request, believing that Wu had used the unfulfilled promise of a plea bargain as a delaying tactic. Hardy assigns himself as second chair to keep an eye on Wu and try to salvage the relationship between his firm and the prosecutor's office. Whether Andrew is guilty or not still isn't part of anyone's considerations.

The situation becomes complicated when the prosecutor is murdered, possibly a victim of a serial killer police are calling the Executioner. The high-profile killing puts every available resource at Glitsky's disposal and he rediscovers the thrill of investigating a complex crime.

The Second Chair is about personal resurrections, as each of the main characters reinvents his or herself, or rediscovers a part of themselves that has been lost. It's also a reflection on the juvenile court system, where few lawyers believe in the possible innocence of their own clients.

Though Lescroart 's books appear routinely on the bestseller list, his name has yet to become a household word. He's a little different from the better-known authors of legal thrillers—he isn't a lawyer. In fact, little of the action in his recent novels takes place in the courtroom. They are more literary character-driven pieces that use legal settings as a canvas upon which he explores important social issues and the personalities of his major players.

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