Onyx, Jan 2003, 6.99, 480 pp.
The State Department's Office of Diplomatic Security has two experienced agents guarding Secretary of State Robert Winthrop. After his wife Ann leaves, only gardener Clyde Gillis remains on the property until George Nesbitt arrives for his appointment. George is actually a woman who kills America's top diplomat before leaving for her home in Connecticut. Clyde finds the body, but fears what happened to his father in Mississippi will happen to him and flees the scene.
With strong circumstantial evidence, the FBI quickly concludes that Clyde killed Robert though no one can locate Nesbitt. Justice Department Attorney Ben Hartwell leads the prosecution team but also wants to insure that the government does not use Clyde as a convenient scapegoat just in case the man is innocent. Anne believes Clyde is innocent and hires her friend lawyer Jennifer Moore to defend him. Jennifer and Ben have a history, but both will do the right thing though that is not safe as this simple robbery gone bad case has more of an international flavor than either lawyer realizes.
Legal procedural fans will relish this strong novel starring a delightful duo, but the female assassin steals the plot. DARK AMBITION never slows down as the case against Clyde seems airtight and he changes his innocent attitude after a visit from the Connecticut killer. Readers will question more so than even Ben does how a vanished Nesbitt fails to place doubts on the case and why no one wonders why the missing visitor left no fingerprints in Winthrop's home. Still readers will follow the lead of the Attorney General's Office and not object because Allan Topal provides quite a thriller.
This report prepared by Harriet Klausner