Adam Mitzner’s A Conflict of Interest features cover blurbs comparing it to Scott Turrow’s Presumed Innocent.
And in many ways, those blurbs are right. Like Innocent, Interest features a conflicted, first-person protagonist involved in a legal battle that is a test of his personal and professional ethics. However, as the novel unfolds, it quickly becomes apparent that not only did Mitzner borrow the style of Turrow’s debut legal thriller, he also borrowed a few of the plot points along the way.
It’s a shame really because for the first half of A Conflict of Interest I found myself thinking that Mitzner could be the next great voice in the field of legal thrillers.
At his father’s funeral, Alex Miller meets Michael Ohlig, a friend of his parents. Ohlig is in the cross hairs of the U.S. government for an alleged brokerage scam and hires Alex to represent him. The one stipulation Ohlig has is that Alex can’t tell his mother. Miller agrees and is assigned a young, up and coming potential partner, Abby to help defend Ohlig.
Meanwhile at home, Alex’s marriage to his wife has hit a but of a lull. The two have a five-year-old daughter, but much of the passion has gone out of their marriage. As Alex struggles with the distance he feels from his wife and his feelings surrounding his father’s death, he finds himself engaging in an emotional affair with Abby, even though such a thing is strictly forbidden by his legal firm.
Of course, there’s more to Ohlig than meets the eye. Throughout the first half of the book, Alex keeps coming back to a feeling he has that Ohlig is innocent. Certainly, Ohlig professes this and stands by it, refusing to allow Alex to pursue a plea deal and wanting to get up and defend himself and his brokerage firm.
The first half of the novel is compelling, page-turning and fascinating. It’s once we get to Ohlig’s first trial and the first huge twist in the story that the A Conflict of Interest begins t unravel a bit. The court room scenes are good but they lack the bite of the novel’s opening pages. They also lack the interest of whether Alex will continue his affair with Abby or choose to back to his wife, whose affections and support run hot and cold.
It’s once the trial starts that revelations begin to come fast and furious, some of them earned, but many feeling like they were taken from the pages of Presumed Innocent, including the ultimate resolution of the Alex and Abby story thread. (I can’t say much more without giving away huge SPOILERS).
It’s a shame really because for the first half of the book, Interest feels refreshingly new. It’s just in the final half that the book collapses under its own weight and offers a few too many moments of deja-vu from other legal thrillers.