Life Sentence

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Jon Soliday is chief counsel of the majority leader of the senate of an unnamed state, and his boss, Grant Tully, is the Democratic candidate for governor. Soliday and Tully are also best friends. Yet Life Sentence opens with another character, Bennett Carey, Soliday’s assistant, defending himself by shooting and killing an intruder in his home. The possible effect of this event on the Tully campaign is quickly forgotten when another lawyer is murdered and Soliday charged. Flashbacks reveal Soliday and Tully’s possible involvement with another death when they were teenagers. Soliday cannot be certain of his responsibility in this incident since he was drunk when a girl died after they had sex. Tully’s influential father helped cover up for Soliday, and he has been indebted to the Tullys ever since.

But things are not always what they seem in David Ellis’s highly engrossing second novel. His Line of Vision (2001) deals with a defendant’s manipulation of the legal system, and more of the same occurs here as the three deaths become slowly intertwined, spreading guilt over several characters.

Ellis, attorney for the Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives, writes in a very simple, economical style and develops the central characters quite well. These qualities make what some might consider outlandish plot developments credible, yet Ellis cleverly sets up all the many twists and turns of his complex story. While Life Sentence (whose title is a metaphor for the experiences of all three protagonists) lacks the depth of the best of Scott Turow, it is both more sophisticated and entertaining than most legal thrillers.