Stephanie Kane Extreme Indifference Reviewed by Terry D'Auray

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Extreme Indifference

Stephanie Kane

Scribner/Simon & Schuster

US Hardcover First


283 Pages; $24.00

Publication Date: November, 2003

Date Reviewed: June 28, 2004

Reviewed by: Terry D'Auray © 2004




03-31-04, 10-18-04 (Interview)

'Extreme Indifference' is Kane's second novel featuring dyslexic criminal defense attorney Jackie Flowers. ('Blind Spot', Flowers' debut, was released as a paperback original in 2000.). In it, Kane has abandoned the artifice of a serial killer scenario, de rigueur for a first novel, and focused on a more believable but equally chilling plot line. Thus freed, Kane's story telling and Flowers' persona blossom into the first-rate, character-driven courtroom suspense that was promised, but not fully delivered, in her initial novel.

In 'Extreme Indifference', Flowers is hired by Glenn Ballard, her former law professor. Ballard belittled Jackie as a student by suggesting she was unlikely ever to pass the bar exam. Now a federal judge, Ballard is charged with abducting and ultimately killing well-heeled college student Amy Lynch in an S&M escapade gone wrong. For Jackie, the defense is both a daunting challenge and a chance to prove her mettle to the arrogant, imperious professor-turned-judge.

Kane reprieves the best supporting characters from her previous novel to the benefit of both the reader and the narrative. Pilar Perez, Jackie's lively investigator, chauffeur, designated reader, and general caretaker returns with spunk and humor. Lily, Jackie's pre-teen Asian neighbor takes another emotionally difficult step toward maturity.

But it's the protagonist, Jackie, who dominates this narrative and provides its unique character. Her dyslexia, invisible to the outside world, is an ever-present burden that leaves her a perpetual outsider struggling to stay focused. Jackie is an attorney who can't read. Instead she draws pictures. She can't translate directions, and must always mask these handicaps to avoid discovery and embarrassment. Kane weaves Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland story adeptly into this novel. It's a fictional operatic event, an apt lesson for Lily as she faces her own Queen of Hearts, and the optimum illustration of Jackie's upside down world. Normally mundane events, driving a car or reading a business card, become tension-filled tests of character, adaptability and survival.

The plotting of 'Extreme Indifference' is a skillful blend of classic courtroom is-he-guilty-or-is-he-not revelation with character driven can-she-do-it in the face of adversity. Kane unveils progressively more damning details of Ballard's actions with perfect timing. The reader seesaws back and forth with each revelation. Ballard's guilty, he's not guilty, he's most certainly guilty and likely doomed, but then...then. Interestingly, despite the skillful plotting and pacing, the reader is less invested in Ballard's guilt or innocence than with Jackie's success or failure in proving it. Ballard's a harlequined mixture of black and white, off-putting and admirable. Jackie holds center stage and absorbs the emotional limelight. Jackie doesn't just win her cases, she solves them, making full use of her unique skills to do so.

Kane's writing deftly blends description and dialogue and she develops her narrative themes and characters with realism and energy. With perception and humor, she nails the environment of Boulder, Colorado. Ultra-liberal, ultra-hip and ultra-white, it's a college town still hung over from the inconclusive trauma of Jon Benet Ramsey. Her courtroom scenes are strong and taut, mixing believable legal maneuvering with the ever-present question of whether Jackie can hold it together in face of the unexpected. Kane builds tension with both plot and character and then tops it off with a nifty, believable twist at the end.

Kane delivers a thoroughly enjoyable and satisfyingly meaty legal page-turner, with a uniquely appealing protagonist. 'Extreme Indifference' is likely to appeal most to women readers, who will easily embrace a series character who may be the courtroom's answer to Sharon McCone or Kinsey Millhone.