Chase Riordan is a former assistant district attorney turned defense attorney who is making a big name for himself - defending murder suspects. When the conclusion of Chase's third murder defense ends with the third defendant being found not guilty, Chase begins to wonder about commonalities between all of these cases. And a fourth suspect shows up on his doorstep asking for his help, but before she can be brought to trial, the charges are dropped and Chase becomes the murder suspect.
As if this wasn't enough for one lifetime, Chase also has a twin brother, Jared, who was in the Army and is now in an Army mental health facility. Each Sunday when Chase goes to visit a practically comatose Jared, he feels that things are not right in this place, and those feelings are reinforced when an old superior of Jared's pays Chase a clandestine visit.
The final element of this book is the circle of friends: Chase and his four closest friends Lionel, Ev, Peter and Randy. They've been friends for the better part of two decades. And Chase's ordeal puts their friendship to the ultimate test.
I have not read a legal thriller this good in years. This is James Fredericks' debut and it is in the vein of early John Grisham. Absolutely OUTSTANDING. This book has lawyers, reporters, the FBI, the Army, and of course political elements. What more could you want from a legal thriller? And while it may seem like a lot for one book, I can tell you that Fredericks did a magnificent job of crafting it altogether so that if any one element was missing, there would be a significant hole in the plot. The book is a long one, and under most circumstances, I would have said maybe Jared's events should have been one book and Chase's another, but the way Fredericks uses the two subplots together is ingenious. And those two subplots together with the circle of friends highlights all the multitude of meanings that the title holds for this book. It is really masterfully written.
And of course you know that I wouldn't rave this much about a book if it didn't have amazing characters. Fredericks subtly develops the characters in this book so that by the last page you know each of them as though you, yourself, were in the "circle." True to the title, the book is primarily a group of male characters. However, the one main female character, Reagan, is a credit to Fredericks. Reagan is a strong character, but not a superwoman. She's intelligent. She's supportive, but not subordinate. And while Fredericks does initially describe her as being very beautiful, he doesn't focus on this quality at all. I also enjoyed his supporting character, Kasey. Another female character who doesn't fall into a stereotype. These two female roles are a credit to Fredericks' ability to craft unique, rich characters.
Fredericks most amazing character work is definitely with Chase and Jared, though. Twins can be a recipe for cliche disaster. And I began to worry about that with this passage:
When Jared had broken his leg falling off a swing at age nine, Chase has been playing basketball in the adjoining playground. As Jared yelled with the impact, Chase stumbled to the ground while going up for a jump shot. Rarely was the connection quite so acute as that, but ever since that day, Jared and Chase had become more and more accustomed to the daily twinges and emotional swings their connection entailed. Over time the two learned to shield themselves from the effects and only the more severe feelings got through: the pains of body and soul.
However, Fredericks uses this tidbit in the most effective way possible. He doesn't abuse it or overuse it. It's in the background and it creates a link for two brothers who, for all intents and purposes, couldn't be more different. I never found it unbelievable at all.
I will add quickly that my favorite characters were Garth and Lookout. So you'll have to read the book to find out who they are! :)
And finally I have to touch on some of the gripping writing style. I was mesmerized reading this passage from a courtroom scene:
There were key moments in every trial, Chase found, when the world came into better focus. It had been the same on the basketball court. A moment came when the world stopped and the texture of the basketball, the lines in the floor, the colors in the crowd, the coordinated movements of his teammates and the opponents, all could be perceived as part of an elaborate mosaic. In court it sometimes came during the questioning of a witness, or after opening arguments. Today it came as the crowd filed out of the courtroom. All of a sudden he could hear every sound clearly - the fabrics moving against skin, the low whispers, the pressing of cell phone buttons, the rubber and leather of footwear padding along the floor. He smelled the tobacco, the perfumes, the aftershaves. He noticed the patterns in the wood grain of the table. Rufus came and sat next to him. Chase could swear he could smell the fear, the anger, the weariness.
This novel has a quick pace, which is natural for a thriller, but the intensity of this passage slows the pace down momentarily and makes you more aware of what's going on all around. It heightens the drama of a murder trial. But most importantly it pulls you, the reader, into the book. You're suddenly sitting in that courtroom seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling. And it's all happening in slow motion so you can turn a 360 degree circle and take it all in. That's the magic of great writing!