Summary and book reviews of Dark Lady by Richard North Patterson

Dark Lady
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  • Hardcover: Aug 1999,
    371 pages.
    Paperback: Aug 2000,
    448 pages.

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Book Summary

In Dark Lady, Richard North Patterson displays the mastery of setting, psychology, and story that makes him unique among writers of suspense, and one of today's most original and enthralling novelists.

In Steelton, a struggling Midwestern city on the cusp of an economic turnaround, two prominent men are found dead within days of each other. One is Tommy Fielding, a senior officer of the company building a new baseball stadium, the city's hope for the future. The other is Jack Novak, the local drug dealers' attorney of choice. Fielding's death with a prostitute, from an overdose of heroin, seems accidental; Novak is apparently the victim of a ritual murder. But in each case the character of the dead man seems contradicted by the particulars of his death. Coincidence or connection?

The question falls to Assistant County Prosecutor Stella Marz. Despite a traumatic breach with her alcoholic and embittered father, she has risen from a working-class background to become head of the prosecutor's homicide unit. A driven woman, she is called the Dark Lady by defense lawyers for her relentless, sometimes ruthless, style: in seven years only one case has gotten away from her, and only because the defendant took his own life. She has earned every inch of both her official and her off-the-record titles, and recently she's decided to go after another: to become the first woman elected Prosecutor of Erie County. But that was before the brutal murder of her ex-lover--Jack Novak.

Novak's death leads her into a labyrinth where her personal and professional lives become dangerously intertwined. There is the possibility that Novak fixed drug cases for the city's crime lord, Vincent Moro, with the help of law enforcement personnel, and perhaps with someone in Stella's own office . . . the bitter mayoral race which threatens to undermine her own ambitions . . . her attraction to a colleague who may not be what he seems . . . the lingering, complicated effects of her painful affair with Novak . . . the growing certainty that she is being watched and followed. Making her way through a maze of corruption, deceit, and greed, trusting no one, Stella comes to believe that the search for the truth involves the bleak history of Steelton itself--a history that now endangers her future, and perhaps her life.

For his uncanny dialogue, subtle delineation of character, and hypnotic narrative, critics have compared Richard North Patterson to John O'Hara and Dashiell Hammett. Now, in the character of the Dark Lady, he has created a woman as fascinating as her world is haunting. Dark Lady is his signature work.

Chapter One

In the moments before the brutal murder of Jack Novak ended what she later thought of as her time of innocence, Assistant County Prosecutor Stella Marz gazed down at the waterfront of her native city, Steelton.

At thirty-eight, Stella would not have called herself an innocent. Nor was the view from her corner office one that lightened her heart. The afternoon sky was a close, sunless cobalt, typical of Steelton in winter. The sludge-gray Onandaga River divided the city as it met Lake Erie beneath a steel bridge: the valley carved by the river was a treeless expanse of railroad tracks, boxcars, refineries, cranes, chemical plants, and, looming over all of this, the smokestacks of the steel mills--squat, black, and enormous--on which Steelton's existence had once depended. From early childhood, Stella could remember the stench of mill smoke, the stain left on the white blouse of her school uniform drying on her mother's clothesline; from her time in night law ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews
Publisher's Weekly

Patterson has advanced considerably from his earlier, rather glib commercial thrillers.

Kirkus Reviews

Dense, knotty, and earnest, though the monstrous stadium isn't quite the high-concept hook Patterson would need to pull it all together. What he offers instead is a familiar brew of kinky sex, political fixes, and twenty channels of nonstop Vincent Moro.

Library Journal

Patterson deftly combines his knack for spellbinding legal drama and his recent interest in the world of politics. As in all of Patterson''s books, the plot's twists and turns build to an unexpected conclusion. Patterson has peopled this very believable novel with fascinating characters, and his understanding of political subtleties is superb. Highly recommended.

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