December 21, 1998 12:00 PM

by David Baldacci

“He felt numb. He had gotten Sara fired, was being set up for murdering his brother and had just told off the Chief Justice of the United States. All in less than an hour.” For ex-cop-turned-public-defender John Fiske, the hero of this new thriller from David Baldacci (Absolute Power, The Winner), the predicaments pile up quickly, especially when Fiske runs into a cover-up in Washington’s highest echelons. Fiske’s brother Michael, a Supreme Court clerk, had come across the petition of inmate Rufus Harms, who claimed he was wrongly convicted of murder on an Army base 25 years earlier. Soon the body count rises—Michael, a second clerk, Harms’s lawyer—and Rufus busts out of the joint. With the help of his romantic interest, court clerk Sara Evans, Fiske tries to unravel the conspiracy. Baldacci ratchets up the suspense, but he lays on the stereotypes pretty thick (the good guys are tough but tormented, the women pretty and smart, and Rufus is the noblest of causes). The simple truth, in the end, proves anything but. (Warner, $25)

Bottom Line: A cracking good case for conspiracy buffs

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