Ethical Questions at the Heart of New Thriller

"Heart of a Killer" by David Rosenfelt
Reviewed by David Marshall James

Jamie Wagner, a young attorney long overshadowed by his uber-achieving parents, is poised to attain his moment of glory-- and then some-- in the limelight.

He may be a Harvard Law grad, but Jamie's on the fast track to Outsville from the New Jersey law firm where he's been pushing papers and otherwise toiling outside of a courtroom for the past six years.

Hardly surprising, then, that the firm assigns him an "Oh, No!" pro bono case that looks virtually unwinnable viewed from any angle of any law.

A female inmate who confessed to slitting her husband's throat wants permission from the State of New Jersey to commit suicide so she can donate her heart to her ailing daughter, who's on the verge of dying unless she receives the difficult match.

Jamie wisely pitches the case into the court of public opinion, via the media that thrive on such human-interest drama masquerading as news.

To be sure, it's the sort of thing that would have Nancy Grace turning "Dancing With the Stars" cartwheels, that would send Anderson Cooper on a T-shirt buying binge. BTW, AC: When are you going on "DWTS"?

However, this whole mess runs much deeper than granting the inmate her heart's desire.

Did she in fact commit the murder?

If not, who offed her abusive husband, who was entangled in a web of nefarious computer hackers?

Why would the wife take the rap for someone else?

Hubby's hackers are about to commit domestic terrorism on some spectacular levels, via their entree into some supposedly secure computer systems.

As a result, Jamie's case becomes the intersection of investigations by the NYPD and the FBI, along with other federal agencies.

This premise fuels a warp-speed plot, complete with author David Rosenfelt's signature twists. To his credit, the story doesn't lose sight of the difficult ethical questions raised by the inmate's request, while posing additional debate-worthy topics surrounding the government's lagging response to the terrorists' threats.

Because such issues are broached, the novel is nicely suited for discussion groups, clubs, or even ethics classes.

Or, just approach it as an entertaining thriller.