After an accident leaves New York City judge William Lonergan mentally impaired, his wife, Barbara, who doubles as the judge’s confidential secretary, is determined to protect his health, his career, and his reputation. Barbara and Larry Seagle, the judge’s law clerk, support Judge Lonergan enough for him to fulfill his judicial duties, keeping his true condition secret. Months pass under this exhausting routine, until suddenly Barbara finds her new way of life under siege.
A private investigator needs Judge Lonergan's help in investigating the murder of a well-known lawyer in upstate New York. A bitter litigant files a grievance against the judge with the Judicial Conduct Commission. Driven by loyalty and guilt, court officer Foxx is looking into a decades-old courthouse murder to exonerate a childhood friend who is dying in prison. He hits many dead ends, until he learns that Barbara Lonergan, who worked as a stenographer long before she married the judge, likely has information about the murder victim.
After the judge is attacked, Barbara decides they should leave New York City. Arriving at their summer house, Barbara believes that she and the judge are safe. She could not be more wrong.
A Shattered Circle by Kevin Egan is a tensely plotted legal thriller set in New York City's iconic 60 Centre Street
|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
KEVIN EGAN is the acclaimed author of Midnight, as well as various other novels and short stories. He has spent his entire legal career working in the New York State court system, including lengthy stints as law clerk to two state supreme court justices. He graduated with a BA in English from Cornell University and teaches legal writing at Berkeley College in Manhattan.
Read an Excerpt
A Shattered Circle
By Kevin Egan
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2017 Kevin Egan
All rights reserved.
Ken Palmer felt the big old Buick pull to the right when he was halfway across the field. He was off road, in a car not designed for off-road driving, and instead of stopping to confirm what he already suspected, he kept his foot on the gas. The double dirt track crossed an alfalfa field owned by a client. The alfalfa was just starting to push up among last year's stalks, the field blending into a dull greenish brown as it stretched into the distance.
The car pulled harder, and Palmer gripped the steering wheel tighter, twisting himself to keep the wheels on the double track that now curved sharply left as the Beaverkill showed itself beyond the tree trunks. His suspicion blossomed into conviction; his right front tire was going flat. But he had no reason to stop, no reason to change plans. He had rescheduled his appointments and adjourned his court appearances for his annual day of hooky. A flat tire was not about to stop him.
It was mid-April, which meant that fishermen from all over creation had descended on the Trout Fishing Capital of the World. Most of the outsiders gravitated to the public fishing areas about twenty miles south, where the Willowemoc joined the Beaverkill at a place called Junction Pool. This land was owned by one of Palmer's clients who hadn't sold out to the state, which meant this three-mile section of the Upper Beaverkill was private property. Palmer could fly-fish the day away without any company. And he definitely did not want any company, because company and the river didn't mix well for him. He'd invited the prospective client now and then, once entertained a lawyer up from the big city. None appreciated the river; none mustered the quiet patience necessary to make the day worthwhile. And so, a wiser man now, it was just him. One day a year, for many years.
The track ended at a thin line of trees, then turned into hardpan as solid as asphalt. Palmer got out to check the tire. It was flat, all right, but not shredded. Cell phone service was spotty, but he raised enough of a signal to connect with Simcoe's Garage.
"Ken Palmer here. Need someone to change a tire."
"You in a rush?" said Darwin.
Palmer explained where he was.
"I'll see who I can rustle up. Just as long as you ain't in a hurry."
"I ain't," said Palmer. He knew Darwin would rustle somebody up. The garage was a hangout for every idler between Lew Beach and Roscoe. Somebody would be willing to pocket a few bucks for changing a flat tire.
Palmer opened the trunk of the car, where he neatly laid out all his gear. He stepped into his waders, then pulled on his vest, which had pockets for flies, tippets, leaders, even his cell phone if he were of a mind. He wasn't. He peeled back the rubberized liner to expose the spare tire, then tossed the phone onto the front seat of the car. He couldn't truly disconnect from the office with that thing in his pocket.
The hardpan sloped down to the river, meeting the water at a tiny patch of sand. Upstream was a stretch of riffles, but they smoothed out as the water dived into a deep, wide pool where Palmer knew the trout liked to gather. He waded out till the water was knee-deep and he could see the dark edge of the pool. He flicked his wrist and launched a blue-winged olive mayfly toward the pool.
In that moment, everything fell away. The flat tire, the office, the clients clamoring about their problems. It was the perfect day. Bright overcast, mild temperature, the birds chirping, the soothing rush of the river against his waders. He didn't give a damn when Darwin Simcoe sent someone to change his tire. He was here for the day.
He caught four browns the first hour, then switched out the blue-winged olive for a little black caddis fly and caught three more. He heard a car pull up, a door slam, and then he saw a man looking appraisingly at the flat tire. The man waved, and Palmer waved back.
Palmer flicked his wrist and whipped the fly over the pool. A trout struck, and he hooked it. This is some lucky day, he thought as he reeled in the trout. He grabbed it, lifted it out of the water, turned toward the bank to display his latest prize. But the man did not look his way. He had the spare tire leaning against the back bumper and was elbow deep in the trunk, rooting around for the jack.
Oh well, thought Palmer, not every local gave a damn about trout. He pinned the rod under his arm, squeezed the fish's mouth, and worked out the hook. Eight caught, eight released. Still early.
He stayed in the water, flicking flies over the pool until he heard the trunk slam and saw the man dusting his hands. The man did not look familiar; at least he wasn't a Swayze or a Berkeley or Reid, the usual collection who hung out at the garage, eating pork rinds and generally getting in the way until Darwin pressed them into service. But he had done his job and done it quickly, and so Palmer slogged toward the sand patch, running numbers in his head. Twenty seemed too much, but ten not enough. Fifteen, he decided. He'd give the man fifteen bucks.
The man crossed the hardpan slope. Maybe he wasn't a Swayze or a Berkeley or a Reid, but as he got closer, there was something about the slope of his shoulders, the swing of his arms, and the tilt of his head that formed a vaguely familiar pattern in the cortex of Palmer's brain.
Palmer set his fly rod down on a large flat rock where the water was ankle deep. He patted his waders, trying to remember if he had his wallet in his pants pocket or if he'd left it on the seat of the car along with his cell phone.
The man came down off the slope, onto the sand, and then into the water.
"Mr. Palmer?" he said.
"Yes," said Palmer.
"Mr. Kenneth Palmer?"
"I changed your tire."
"Thank you." Palmer located his wallet in his back left pocket and worked his hand inside his waders. "Just want to pay you for your trouble."
"No trouble, Mr. Palmer. Besides, I'm here to pay you."
"Pay me?" Palmer's hand reached his wallet. "For what?"
The man mumbled a name.
"Who?" said Palmer.
The man cleared his throat and repeated the name.
"But you're not one of them," said Palmer.
"That was the whole point, wasn't it?" said the man. A smile slowly spread across his face; then he lunged.
Palmer backed away, but the man grabbed him in a bear hug. Palmer bucked and thrashed, but with one arm in his waders and the other pinned to his side, he couldn't break the man's hold. The man waded out to his waist, tightening his arms around Palmer's chest as if to squeeze every molecule of air out of Palmer's lungs. At the edge of the pool, he loosened his hold. Palmer managed one long breath before the man spun him around and shoved him facedown.
Palmer tried to get his feet under him, but the man pressed him deeper into the cold, smooth water. Palmer flailed his arms and kicked his legs, but the water dampened the force of his blows. Three feet away, he could see the edge of the pool where the eight trout he had caught and released on his day of hooky now hid in the dark depths. His lungs hurt; his neck hurt. He kicked one more time. The air exploded from his lungs, and as he drew in a chest full of cold water, he saw the darkness of the pool swirling up to envelop him.CHAPTER 2
The taxi swung east off Broadway, the sky suddenly opening on the August sun hanging hot and brilliant over Brooklyn. Barbara squinted until the taxi completed its turn and the roofline plunged the backseat into shade. She and Bill were subway people, she because of her humble beginnings and Bill because he saw himself as a regular guy who happened to become what he had become. She remembered how he looked on the subway — refusing to sit even with empty seats, standing with his back to the double doors, The New York Times opened and then folded precisely in the lost art of broadsheet reading. She remembered his wide stance, his flexed arms, his reading glasses low on his nose, his eyes focused. It was an image of confidence and strength, two qualities she found extremely sexy.
Now they rode in cabs. Bill slumped beside her, head turned to watch the Federal Building slide past the window. The Daily News lay on his lap, still folded in its plastic bag. She pinched a shred of lint off his sleeve and flicked it away with her thumb. It took Bill a moment to react to the tiny tug, another moment to break away from the window, still another to search out her eyes. It was then he smiled.
"Hello, dear," she said, and patted the top of his hand. He still looked so damn good, so damn distinguished. The judge from central casting.
"Hello, dear," he replied.
The cab pulled to the curb between two orange cones that reserved the space where cabs or car service dropped off judges at the side entrance to the New York County Courthouse. Barbara opened the door just enough for her thin frame to squeeze through as traffic zipped past. She went around the back of the cab, opened the rear door, and paid the cabbie as Bill unfolded himself, tall and lanky, onto the sidewalk.
"Here we are again," said Barbara. She tugged the cuffs of his white shirt, smoothed the lapels of his gray chalk-striped suit, and straightened his blue tie. "Back for another day."
A flagstone path crossed a triangular park formed by the northwest face of the hexagonal courthouse and the right-angle corner of Centre and Worth Streets. In an hour or so, couples newly wed in the City Clerk's Office would pose for pictures in this park. But right now it was quiet, with lawyers making last-minute changes to court papers, office workers meeting for coffee, and bums stretching out on benches.
Barbara locked her elbow on Bill's arm as they headed down the path toward a court officer standing beside a brass door.
"Morning, Judge," the officer said. "Morning, Mrs. Lonergan."
Barbara felt Bill's arm tighten as if jolted with energy.
"You're doing a great job," he said, his voice hearty.
The officer grinned.
"Don't listen to what they're saying about you in Chinatown," Bill continued. "You're doing a great job. A helluva job."
"Thanks, Judge." The officer pulled open the brass door.
Barbara released Bill's arm and let him walk in ahead of her.
"Sixteen years he's been telling me I'm doing a great job," the officer whispered to Barbara. "Does anyone ever do a bad job?"
"Not often," Barbara whispered back.
Inside the door was a small foyer. A stairway led up to the main lobby, and beside the stairway was a key-operated elevator reserved for judges, chambers staff, and senior administrators. Barbara and Bill took the elevator to the fifth floor, then walked two faces of the hexagonal corridor before reaching a door bearing a gold nameplate that read: MR. JUSTICE LONERGAN.
Like most chambers at 60 Centre Street, Judge Lonergan's was a three-room suite. In geometric terms, one room was a square, another a narrow rectangle, and the last, because it butted up against the angle of the hexagon, a trapezoid. A Supreme Court Justice — the official title of those who presided at 60 Centre, though they answered to "judge" — was entitled to a law clerk and a confidential secretary. Technology — first in the form of desktop computers, then later in a second generation of laptops, tablets, and smartphones — reduced the secretary's workload while increasing the size and complexity of each judge's caseload. Consequently, many judges opted to replace their secretaries with a second law clerk. In this respect, Judge Lonergan was in a distinct minority.
Barbara unlocked the door into the trapezoid-shaped room. She led Bill through the law clerk's office, down the short avenue of doors that connected the three rooms, and sat him in the big leather chair behind his desk.
"Don't move," she said. "I'll be right back."
She went to her desk in the middle room, dumped her purse into the big bottom drawer, and stripped off her linen jacket. Her cotton blouse already felt heavy with perspiration. But it would dry quickly in the frigid chambers air, and she was not going anywhere or seeing anyone today, so the dark halfmoons below her armpits made no difference. Today would be a normal day or, more precisely, a new-normal day.
Back in the square, inner office, she found the judge facing the window.
"No birds," he said.
"Not yet." She grabbed his hands. "Up with you."
The judge allowed her to pull him up to his feet. She peeled off his suit jacket, gave it a shake, and hooked it onto the coat-tree, where his robe hung from a hanger. She unbuttoned his shirt cuffs and folded them back, exposing the wrists she loved so much.
"There," she said. "Comfortable?"
The windows on the chambers floors had steel frames and thick leaded-glass panes, a combination so heavy that Barbara's two-handed exertion succeeded in raising the sash one squeaky foot. She spread a thin layer of birdseed on the granite sill, then used her entire weight to push the window closed.
"Here," she said, laying a field guide to northeastern birds on the desk in front of Bill. "See what comes to visit."
She set Bill's door ajar to shield him from any unexpected visitors, then went into the outer office. Larry Seagle, the law clerk, had come in while Barbara fed the birds. He was a small but athletically preserved man with wiry hair dusted gray and brown eyes magnified by wire-rimmed glasses.
Larry stood at the printer, waiting as the last of several pages settled into the tray. He plucked out the pages and sat behind his desk. Barbara sat opposite, watching him attach a page to each of ten file folders with rubber bands.
"Ready when you are," he said.
"Let's wait awhile," said Barbara. "He needs to settle down."
"No problem," said Larry. He was only a few years younger than the judge, but moved with the vigor and spoke with the voice of a much younger man.
Barbara stretched out her legs, slumped down in the chair, and let her head drop back over the backrest. She needed to settle down herself after the two-hour ordeal of getting Bill out of bed, into his suit, downtown in a cab, and into chambers. It wasn't so much the physical effort as the need for constant vigilance that drained her. But now they were in chambers, in the courthouse that Bill deeply loved. That love may have been temporarily scrambled now, but she could still sense it pulsing off him.
After a few minutes, she locked the chambers door and led Larry into the judge's office. Bill stared at two house finches pecking at the few seeds that remained on the sill. Barbara gently removed the field guide from his hand and pulled up a chair beside him.
"We have a case here, Bill," she said. She lifted the first case summary Larry had written.
Bill patted his pockets, then ran his hand under the desk blotter. He was looking for the field guide, which Barbara had slipped behind her back.
"Over here, Bill." She snapped her fingers. "Look at me."
Bill dropped the blotter and turned his chair to face her.
"Do you want to hear about the case?"
"Yes," he said.
"There's this woman," said Barbara. "She goes to a department store. That morning, a carpet-cleaning company shampooed all the carpets in the store. The woman walks across a carpet. It's still wet, and she's wearing rubber-soled shoes."
"I remember now," said Bill. His eyes narrowed in concentration. "She walks off the carpet and onto a tile floor, where she slips and falls. She says the carpet wasn't properly dried, so the water on her rubber soles caused her to fall when she stepped onto the tiles. She's suing the store and the carpet company. So who's asking for what?"
Barbara turned to Larry, who sat on the sofa. She arched her eyebrows; he nodded.
"The store and the carpet company are both asking you to dismiss the case against them," said Barbara. "The store says it didn't clean the carpets. The carpet company says it owed the woman no duty."
"They can't both be right," said Bill. "I would deny both their motions."
Barbara wrote Deny across the top of the summary and handed it to Larry.
They worked that way for over an hour, Barbara reading the case summaries until Bill's mind engaged — suddenly, it always seemed — and he opined on how the decision should come out. Two months ago, shortly after the incident, Bill barely could concentrate. One month ago, he could discuss three, maybe four cases before his attention wavered. In the last week, though, he seemed to improve each day. Six cases, then seven. Yesterday, eight. Today, Barbara was reading the ninth case summary when Bill suddenly lifted out of his chair and shuffled past her to the window.
"No more," he said, tapping a finger on the glass.
"Bill, honey, come sit."
"No more," he said.
Larry cleared his throat. Barbara turned toward him, and he made a slashing motion across his neck.
Excerpted from A Shattered Circle by Kevin Egan. Copyright © 2017 Kevin Egan. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A Shattered Circle is a superbly crafted legal thriller written with crystalline clarity, giving us an unobstructed view into the inner workings of the legal system, shining a light that deepens shadows drenched in the darker shades of noir. It is like the abrupt pounding of a heavy walnut gavel, falling with skull-cracking authority. Like Egan’s previous novels, Midnight and The Missing Piece, The Shattered Circle’s greatest strength lies in its atmospherics, conjured with vivid descriptions of the iconic New York County courthouse, with its quirky traditions, secrets, and curious inner workings that are vulnerable to corruption.
From the publisher: After an accident leaves New York City judge William Lonergan mentally impaired, his wife, Barbara, who doubles as the judge’s confidential secretary, is determined to protect his health, his career, and his reputation. Barbara and Larry Seagle, the judge’s law clerk, support Judge Lonergan enough for him to fulfill his judicial duties, keeping his true condition secret. Months pass under this exhausting routine, until suddenly Barbara finds her new way of life under siege. A private investigator needs Judge Lonergan’s help in investigating the murder of a well-known lawyer in upstate New York. A bitter litigant files a grievance against the judge with the Judicial Conduct Commission. Driven by loyalty and guilt, court officer Foxx is looking into a decades-old courthouse murder to exonerate a childhood friend who is dying in prison. He hits many dead ends, until he learns that Barbara Lonergan, who worked as a stenographer long before she married the judge, likely has information about the murder victim. After the judge is attacked, Barbara decides they should leave New York City. Arriving at their summer house, Barbara believes that she and the judge are safe. She could not be more wrong. The opening pages describe the killing of attorney Ken Palmer. The ensuing pages describe the murder of a forensic psychologist, Maxine Rosen, and a former lawyer, Daniel Kaplan, all the fallout of a case which had its origins over two decades earlier. The reader doesn’t learn all the facts behind these killings until two-thirds of the way through the novel, when we also discover who is responsible for all three murders. Along the way we are taken through the routines of the criminal courts in Manhattan and those who work there, by a writer who has spent his entire legal career working in the New York State court system. And a fascinating look it is! Judge Lonergan, now 66 years old, is able to hold onto his seat on the bench, as well as his reputation, solely by virtue of the efforts of his wife and his law clerk, but now all of that, as well as his very life, is threatened by the same killer. How, or if, the latter succeeds will depend on these same devoted souls. And the tense and suspenseful pages will have the reader engrossed until the end. Recommended.