King of Lies: A Novel, by John Hart
Set in a smaller North Carolina community, this 2006 courtroom mystery features criminal attorney Work Pickins. He serves as the narrator of the book. Pickins’ father was also an attorney and worked his way up from a hardscrabble childhood to become a very wealthy corporate attorney. However, he never really outgrew his roots. He had an uncontrolled temper and beat his wife and children often. He was also responsible for the death of Work’s mother. He disappeared one night and was never seen again.
It’s now a few years later and Work is plodding along in his career. He learns that his father’s body has been found with two gunshots to the head. At the reading of the will Pickins is surprised to learn just how rich his father was, to the tune of $15-million, all of it going to Work with some hard provisions, including that not a dollar is to go to his sister. Work now finds himself the principal suspect in the murder. With the help of a detective friend Work must now try to clear himself without implicating the person he thinks committed the murder: His suicidal sister. As he does this he also has to deal with his relationships with his ambitious wife and his long-time lover.
It’s interesting to watch a criminal attorney try to navigate the justice system as his own attorney, doing his best to muddy evidence and deal with police and prosecutors. The final clue to the true killer lays hidden in a safe Work finds under a rug in his father’s office. He doesn’t know the combination and while other clues are followed Work continues to try to figure out how to get into the safe.
The reveal is very surprising. Work himself comes across as a likeable person, no matter how many ways he’s screwed up his own life. Since the book is written from his perspective the reader ends up rooting for his lover over his cold wife, which feels weird. But it works. Solid mystery, well-paced, likeable and hateable people, and a background with a dysfunctional family in the extreme. Well put together with a satisfying ending.