A Conflict of Interest, by Adam Mitzner
Raised in a modest background, Alex Miller is now the junior partner in one of the top law firms in New York City. At his father’s funeral he meets a man named Michael Ohlig, a long-time friend of the family who was present when Alex’s parents met. Ohlig takes him aside at the cemetery and asks Alex to represent him in a stock fraud case.
Ohlig is charged with assigning his sales crew to aggressively sell a stock, concentrating on seniors, but with the knowledge that the stock would be worthless as soon as Ohlig is able to get rid of the shares.
Working from a $2-million retainer Alex begins working 16-20 hour days, rarely seeing his own wife and child while he’s almost constantly in the company of a beautiful young attorney who is a candidate for partnership in the firm. Alex finds he can only resist temptation for so long as he and the other attorney go beyond flirtation. Meanwhile Alex learns that Ohlig has a secret about his relationship with Alex’s family that may interfere with how hard Alex wants to work in keeping Ohlig a free man.
Mitzner certainly isn’t the first attorney to write a legal thriller, but he does a better-than-average job of making the intrigues of the courtroom and office politics interesting. More than a few attorney/authors get involved in courtroom minutiae or never master characters and dialogue. Mitzner has chops in both and is able to swing a dramatic twist with the best of them. What I didn’t like about the book isn’t necessarily his fault. It’s just difficult to watch a lead character screw up his life, particularly over sex. But Alex Miller is an honest character. He’s obsessed with his career and has trouble relating to or understanding his own wife. He finds himself very attracted to a co-worker. He’s not the first or last in fiction or real life to go through it. That doesn’t make it easy to watch but I suppose that is as much praise for the realism of the character as a criticism.
The final surprise of the book turns on a piece of evidence hidden by one of the characters, and in the context of the book it seems like a particularly strange thing to do. And given the number of prosecutors who hate to be wrong this new evidence initiates a change that I don’t think would be as easy as the book makes it seem. Those things aside it’s a tight drama with a fair amount of sexy and romantic interplay between the two attorneys. It works on the level of both a drama and a mystery with plot shifts that seem to come from nowhere even though they fit with the whole of the book.