Filler content with professional jurors

A review that originally appeared in Black Static #10:-

Andrew Neiderman: Deadly Verdict
(Severn House paperback, 217pp, £10.99)

This futuristic crime thriller comes courtesy of a writer who will be most familiar to horror readers for The Devil’s Advocate.

In some near future America the justice system has been revolutionised by the introduction of professional jurors, people trained to evaluate evidence. It is vital that their identities be kept secret to prevent corruption, but when a juror disappears immediately after a trial alarm bells sound. FBI agent Holland Byron is assigned to the case and saddled with a new partner with the name Wyatt Erp, whose lead she must follow. As the investigation continues more events occur, including the deaths of several people connected to the disappearance. Holland is also troubled by the behaviour of her partner, who appears to be taking drugs, not sharing information and subject to curious memory losses. When things go pear shaped with a leak to the press, Holland suspects that she is being set up to take the fall, but the truth is even stranger.

I have mixed feelings about this book. It gives a partially convincing picture of the future, one in which paranoia is to the fore and America is half way to becoming a police state, with erosion of civil liberties and a culture of distrust. Against that nearly everyone references Clint Eastwood and Humphrey Bogart, which hardly seems credible, while there is still very much a glass ceiling for women. The most interesting part of this scenario is the juror system, which actually sounds like a splendid idea, aside from the psychological toll on those involved directly.

Another reservation for me, was the whole thing with Wyatt Erp, but I can’t go into detail without dropping a major plot spoiler. Suffice to say that Mr Erp is not what he appears to be, but at the same time this was an unnecessary complication of the red herring genus. Lead character Holland is a composite of several clichés: the woman in a man’s world with so much to prove, afraid that she is valued more for her beauty than her brains, the daughter of a cop following in father’s footsteps. She moves the story along, but never really came alive for me, had no distinguishing foibles to make her real. The most intriguing character was assassin Billy Potter, whose thoughts before each kill we are privy to, and this makes for chilling reading, a picture of an amoral man given carte blanche to indulge his worst instincts.

For as long as it lasted Deadly Verdict was an engaging read and I wanted to know how it all turned out, but overall it’s perhaps best included with those books that it’s better to read than to finish.

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