The Mercy Rule

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Dismas Hardy, ex-bartender, ex-prosecutor, loving husband and father, has resolved to stop getting involved in criminal defense cases and to spend more time with his family. He is bored, but he has been keeping regular hours for a change. But then he reluctantly agrees to take the case of Graham Russo, a might-have-been-great baseball player turned lawyer, who has been indicted by an eager prosecutor for the murder of his father.

Everyone knew that Sal Russo was dying and that he needed regular shots of morphine to ease his pain. Graham admits that he frequently administered the injections to ease his father’s pain, but he denies administering the fatal dose. The ambiguous evidence suggests the possibility that Sal was unconscious due to a blow to the head when the lethal dose was administered—or perhaps he hit his head when the drug hit him. Was it murder, a suicide, or a mercy killing? If it wasn’t a suicide, and Graham is innocent, then who was responsible for Sal’s death and why? Is it Sal’s ex-wife, who has made a very advantageous second marriage? Is it her wealthy new husband? Is it one of Sal’s other two adult children who are enjoying their new stepfather’s largess but also chaffing under his dominance over their lives?

To Dismas’ dismay, a local euthanasia advocacy group takes up his client’s cause, despite Graham’s continuing insistence on his non-involvement. Then the lawyer learns that his supposedly impecunious client has in his possession a large sum of money and an extremely valuable baseball card collection both of which disappeared from Sal’s apartment shortly before he died. Graham claims that his father gave him the money and the cards for safe-keeping. Strangely enough, Dismas finds—against his better instincts—that he believes his client. But how can he best prove his innocence—by finding a murderer, by arguing for a suicide, or finding a mercy-killer?