February 15, 1993 12:00 PM

by William Diehl

After five gritty novels centering on petty thieves, local hit men and other desperate and cynical characters, Diehl, best-selling author of Sharkey’s Machine, moves into the courtroom.

Maverick attorney Martin Vail, a thorn in the side of Chicago’s political machine, is railroaded into defending a runaway Appalachian teenager in a sensational murder trial. The victim is a Catholic bishop, “the Saint of Lake-view Drive,” whose life work was to rescue adolescents from the mean streets. Aaron Stampler, one of the saved, is found at the scene clutching a bloody butcher knife.

An open-and-shut case, or so it seems, until Vail and his team uncover some shocking surprises. As much psychological thriller as legal drama, with a dose of social conscience, Fear showcases Diehl’s talent for taut dialogue and unnerving suspense. Though the players too easily line up as good or evil, and the ending begs for a sequel (already in the works), Diehl delivers. (Villard, $20)

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