Lescroart gives us our bad guy at the very beginning of Damage, a not-uncommon technique which works well in this, his latest novel. Roland Curtlee, the spoiled sociopathic son of one of San Francisco’s wealthiest and most connected families, has just been released from jail on a technicality, after nearly 9 years behind bars for the rape and murder of one of his family’s Hispanic maids. The Curtlees regularly recruit vulnerable young Central American women for their staff, assuring themselves of their benevolence while (unwittingly?) providing Roland a ready supply of victims for his sexual depredations. “Ro” is now out on the street, and out for revenge. The first to go is one of the maids who testified against him at his trial, and she dies horribly. Another former maid is in hiding, but Curtlee money is certain to sniff her out eventually.
Everyone—except perhaps for Ro’s own self-deluded parents—knows Ro and his “bodyguard” are on a killing spree, including top homicide cop and Lescroart regular Abe Glitsky, newly-appointed DA and another Lescroart regular Wes Farrell, the former prosecutor on the case, and others. But the mayor is in the Curtlees’ pocket, and so Ro remains at large. Efforts to turn up sufficient evidence to take the killer off the streets are blocked at every turn, and the careers and family lives of his opponents start to crack under a combination of Curtlee political pressure and outright threats. The tension is super-heated and readers will hold their breaths to see who else will die before Ro gets his.
Farrell is a particularly interesting character in this story. A long-standing defense attorney with enough quirks to make him eminently loveable, he suddenly finds himself in the job of the city’s top prosecutor and thus in the political cross-hairs of the corrupt–and corrupting–Curtlee family. As DA, he tries to stick to the letter of the law, which means leaving Ro out on bail, but somewhere along the way is convinced that the law needs tweaking if lives are to be protected. And thus Lescroart introduces one of his favorite themes: is the law open to interpretation, and where do the lines get drawn? A fascinating and provocative issue, to be sure.
Lescroart adds another level of intrigue to his story by killing off the wife of the jury foreman from Ro’s trial 9 years earlier. Although she dies exactly like the maids, there are some questions in Farrell’s mind that he’s having a hard time answering. Is there another “bad guy” to be unveiled? Once Ro is back in jail, should he charge him with the murder of the foreman’s wife and clear his slate, or should he continue to investigate?
My one complaint about this book is Lescroart’s choice of an all-too-stereotypical spoiled scion of a corrupt family who preys on the family’s maids. How many books have we all read with that as the theme? Perhaps the practice is more prevalent than I could imagine–coming from a working-class family, I’ve had no experience with maids or spoiled wealthy psychopaths. Anyway…
The denouement of Damage is mostly satisfying, ending a “Mexican stand-off” that had this reader biting her nails to the quick. Still, it left the question of whether the law can or should be “tweaked” mostly unanswered. Or did it? May the reader decide.