Coincidence is a tricky thing in fiction. You can't really demand that authors avoid it completely, as it's a part of life - that's why we have a word for it. Since a certain amount of suspension of disbelief is generally required in mysteries and suspense thrillers, how much coincidence should we put up with?
My high school creative writing teacher, Mr. Henry, had a rule: Coincidence is acceptable in fiction as long as it works against the protagonist and not for him.
Otherwise, readers are likely to exclaim, "How conveeeenient!" when, as in Stuart Woods' "Deep Lie," the spy's boyfriend is washed ashore at the very sub base she is investigating.
In "The Hearing," his newest Dismas Hardy legal thriller, John Lescroart does not resort to that kind of lazy plotting, but his tendency to go for the personal angle in so many of his cases means that if you take this series as a whole, San Francisco must be a very small town.
Abe Glitsky, head of the homicide bureau, gets a call that Elaine Wager, a prominent black attorney, has been found shot in an alley. A homeless heroin addict, gun in hand, is caught bending over her.
Glitsky is usually a stickler for regulations, but not even his closest friends know Elaine was his daughter.
In his rage, Glitsky allows a tainted confession to be sweated out of the man, who is both drunk and delirious from heroin withdrawal. This is where Dismas Hardy, Glitsky's best friend, comes in. As a favor to a friend, he defends the young man, who is facing the death penalty.
But if you're willing to put that aside and accept the premise, "The Hearing" is one of Lescroart 's most entertaining novels, a wild and woolly ride through San Francisco's radical politics and fraying legal system.
Lescroart paints San Francisco as a city where liberalism has run so amok that a landlord is more likely to do jail time than an armed robber.
That's why Dismas' legal antennae go way up when Sharron Pratt, the leftist district attorney, decides to press this case as her very first death penalty prosecution.
A repentant Glitsky, also smelling a rat, decides to help Dismas, which not only puts his job in jeopardy but also his health. It also brings him into contact with legal secretary Treya Ghent, Elaine's best friend and confidant. Treya, already resentful of Glitsky, is horrified to see him helping the defense - and even more shocked at her interest in the widower cop.
Equal parts murder mystery, and a trenchant commentary on how bad politics make even worse law, "The Hearing" is a terrific summer read. It might not have the glow of literary pretension that envelops Scott Turow, but it's a heck of a lot more fun.
And that's no coincidence.