Neither as meaty nor as finely drawn as Lescroart’s earlier and more emotionally complex thrillers, The Fall nonetheless fits the bill for a combination murder mystery/courtroom drama that dovetails with this country’s soaring racial tensions between police and African-Americans.
The Fall deals with the first major legal case of Rebecca (“The Beck”) Hardy, daughter of Lescroart’s serial hero Dismas Hardy. The Beck is now an associate in Hardy’s law firm and gets her first chance at a murder trial in defense of one Greg Treadway, a sympathetic young man who is working as an advocate for kids in the foster system. When Anlya Paulson, an African-American 17-year-old, is pushed to her death from a San Francisco traffic bridge, the police and DA’s office are put under intense political pressure to clean up their record of letting too many African-American homicides go unsolved. Greg, who was representing Anlya’s twin brother Max and who had taken Anlya to dinner the night of her death, is named lead suspect and arrested. The Beck, convinced of his innocence, takes the case, with her more experienced dad coaching her from the sidelines.
Despite strong evidence against Greg, there are many other potential suspects and Lescroart’s plants numerous trails leading us to their doorsteps. They include the violent boyfriend of Anlya’s best friend at their group foster home, whose burgeoning escort service was threatened by Anlya’s intervention with the other girls at the home. There is also the homicidal ex-inmate Leon, who had been the live-in boyfriend of Anlya and Max’s mother for a number of years, and who had repeatedly raped Anlya before getting nabbed for murder and sent off to prison. There is also Anlya’s drug- and alcohol-addled mother, and a mysterious homeless man who is the lead witness against Greg.
The plot has enough red herrings to make the story interesting, and the political environment is mostly realistic and well-drawn, as are the courtroom scenes, and yet there are just too many flaws and contrivances to make this novel a winner. First, Greg is such a spoiled putz that it’s pretty obvious from the getgo that he’s not an innocent victim of the system. Then, the deathbed scene of Anlya’s friend is both tragic and ludicrous at the same time, which is a bad combination. The depiction of Max’s short-lived conversion to “bad kid” is heavy-handed and almost cartoonish. Also, the interview with Max by the Hardy’s investigator comes inexplicably late, almost as an afterthought. And finally, the who-done-it was just a little too obvious to make this one of Lescroart’s more memorable works.