“It is through the character of the dead artist that Ms. McLean powers into the explosive ending, leaving us quiet, contemplative, and waiting for her next book.”
Margaret McLean’s fast-paced legal thriller Under Oath works on two fundamental levels: It accurately portrays the external courtroom battles over witnesses and evidence while at the same time bringing us deep into the characters’ internal battles over emotions and morality.
At the center of the story is prosecutor Annie Fitzgerald, a tough, complicated woman with a troubled past. The case is a murder and conspiracy trial against a charismatic and ruthless killer, Billy Malone. Malone is accused of killing an addict by providing him with a lethal dose of heroin.
The trial brings to light the “code of silence” practiced by the residents of the historic and insular Boston neighborhood of Charlestown where the crime took place. The code requires of Charlestown inhabitants: Not to see anything, not to hear anything, and not to talk to cops.
The code has allowed killer Malone to dodge the law for years, careening down an endless path of brutality. Until this case. Until Annie Fitzgerald digs down into her own connection with the neighborhood to break the code and persuade witnesses to come forth. At a devastating cost.
When the logical witnesses fail to drive the case home for the prosecution, it turns on the secrets held by the murder victim himself. A troubled artist, he represents the heart of the neighborhood: the bright and the dark, the hope and the despair. Speaking from the grave through his art, the victim reaches out to the prosecutor and to us. We see the neighborhood as he sees it, with its flaws, brutality, and ultimately, its humanity.
It is through the character of the dead artist that Ms. McLean powers into the explosive ending, leaving us quiet, contemplative, and waiting for her next book.