Michael Cordell’s Contempt is a new book from TCK Publishing.com in the tradition of Harlan Coben and John Grisham; a legal thriller with surprises.
Thane Banning is a real estate lawyer who has just spent five years in jail for the murder of Lauren McCoy, a murder he says he did not commit. He has been suddenly released on a technicality. Upon leaving prison he reunites with his wife, Hannah, with whom he has had little contact during his time inside and his old boss, Joseph. Both are immediately supportive of him until Thane reveals that he is going to pursue a criminal case for friend he met in prison, Skunk Burns. Thane feels he has also been wrongfully jailed for murder and thinks only he can help. However, the waters become particularly muddied when his wife realises that the case is being opposed by the District Attorney Stone, who put Thane behind bars in the first place.
Apart from dealing with public outcry about his unusual circumstances for release, Thane is pursued by Stone, the public in general, and the father of his supposed victim, all making his preparation for his first ever criminal trial rather difficult to cope with.
Thane teams up with an ex-inmate, Gideon, and a law student, Kristin, hoping to make a name for herself, and tackle a case that may either save Skunk, a man with far from a clean slate of behaviour in terms of the law, or send him to prison for good.
Like all good crime and legal thrillers, and I have certainly read my fair share of them, Contempt shows that things are not always as they seem. Thane has learnt the hard way, having spent time in jail himself, that he may need to place some traps for his opponents and not always follow the legal rule book if he is to prove what he firmly believes in his gut. As the case unfolds in court and tensions between the defence and prosecution rise, questions are raised regarding the vengeance of Stone being the possible motivating reason for taking on the case. As for Thane, his unconventional lines of questioning ensure the judge remains uncertain as to where Thane is heading with some of his defence, let alone the reader.
Contempt is well written, its characters are well developed, and very much like a Harlen Coben novel, it keeps you guessing till the very end. The book certainly questions the idea of fairness in the court system and whether a guilty verdict is always an indication of truth. As the book appears to reach its finale, it has a hook and twist aspect reminiscent of Coben. While certain aspects of the case are clearly indicated along the way, the book’s conclusion remains surprising, yet totally believable at the same time.
I will certainly be happy to seek out some more Michael Cordell books in the future. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. I can see why he has written screenplays – his style and pace are well-suited to a visual medium – and can imagine Contempt being the basis of a good film. I rate this among the best of the crime/legal genre I have come across.