Judge Oliver Garland has just died in suspicious circumstances. Conservative and controversial, Garland had many enemies. Many years ago, he'd earned a judge's highest prize: a Supreme Court nomination. But in a scene of bitter humiliation in front of a televised audience and before the eyes of his family, he had to withdraw his nomination. It was a national scandal, and a private agony, one from which he never recovered. Now, year's later, The judge's death raises even more questions than his life did and seems to be leading to a second terrible scandal. Could he have been murdered? He has left a strange message for his son Talcott, a professor at an elite Ivy League law school, entrusting him with 'the arrangements' - a mysterious puzzle that only Tal can unlock, and only by unearthing the ambiguities of his father's turbulent past. When another man is found dead, and then another, Talcott must risk life, marriage and reputation, following the clues his father left him.
Carter, a Yale law professor and distinguished conservative African-American intellectual known for his nonfiction (The Culture of Disbelief), has written a first-rate legal thriller guaranteed to broaden his audience. The narrator, Talcott Garland, is a law professor at Elm Harbor University whose occasional Carteresque editorializing about politics and justice are saved from didacticism by his abiding existential loneliness. The mystery at the heart of the novel stems from Tal's father's disgrace: Judge Oliver Garland (a Robert Bork meets Clarence Thomas type) was nominated by Ronald Reagan for a Supreme Court seat, but brought down in the Senate hearings when it was revealed that he had a friendship with Jack Ziegler, a wild-card former CIA agent now rumored to be an organized crime kingpin. When the judge dies of what looks like a heart attack and Ziegler turns up at his funeral, Tal is initiated into a quest to uncover mysterious "arrangements" his father made in the event of his untimely demise. Various shady entities observe Tal chasing down the judge's clues, which include a cryptic note ("you have little time.... Excelsior! It begins!") and derive from chess strategy. Meanwhile, Talcott is going through a rough patch: his wife, Kimmer, a high-powered attorney, is probably cheating on him, his Elm Harbor law school colleagues are suspicious of him and a fake FBI man is following him around. As Talcott digs deeper, he uncovers a vein of corruption that runs all the way to the top, and his own life becomes threatened. This thriller, which touches electrically on our sexual, racial and religious anxieties, will be the talk of the political in-crowd this summer.