Since John Lescroart entered the legal thriller field by having Dismas Hardy - his ex-cop, ex-prosecutor and ex-bartender hero - hang out a shingle, there has been a rule of thumb in this series: The less time spent in the courtroom, the better the book.
The weaker entries in the series - "The 13th Juror" and "Hard Evidence" - go heavy on the trial theatrics, and even heavier on contrivance and coincidence. In the best of Lescroart 's recent books, "A Certain Justice," no one even makes it to a courtroom.
"Nothing but the Truth" begins ominously, with lots of courtroom dramatics. As Dismas argues the case of a karate expert Cowboys fan who was accosted by 49ers fans at Candlestick Park, he gets a call that his wife, Frannie, has not picked up their kids.
Later, he finds out Frannie was testifying before a grand jury empaneled by an ambitious prosecutor as a fishing expedition in a high-profile murder case. Frannie was jailed on a contempt charge for refusing to divulge a confidence on behalf of the main suspect, the victim's husband.
As worried as Dismas is about getting Frannie out of jail, he is even more concerned about her closeness with a man he thought was a minor acquaintance.
When the suspect disappears, Frannie is left holding the bag - and still refuses to talk. This gets the rumor mill buzzing, and Dismas becomes very worried about the state of his marriage.
Unsure that the truth is what he wants to really hear - but knowing it is the only thing that will set Frannie free - Dismas begins his own investigation.
It leads him into a hot California gubernatorial race, a high-stakes war between eco-terrorists and a corporate dirty trickster, a charismatic candidate who is either crooked or delegating far too much authority. The digging makes Dismas himself the target of a killer.
While worrying about his wife's loyalty, Dismas manipulates his best friend, homicide chief Abe Glitsky, by withholding information.
"Nothing but the Truth" is one of Lescroart 's best. This smart, intricate mystery combines big-city politics, law enforcement turf wars and the scramble for government subsidies, with more personal issues of commitment, trust and the realization that even the most perfect love requires constant attention to survive.
And so does a good mystery. This time Lescroart pays attention to small details, and this carefully written story holds up under close scrutiny. But the "Truth" of this tale comes from its characters.
Unlike some authors of mystery series, Lescroart gives his characters everyday foibles and is even willing to plant seeds of doubt in our mind that they have acted, or will always act, honorably.
Unlike, say, Robert B. Parker's Spenser books, that adds tension in the uncertainty that everything just might not come out all right in the end, not to mention a sense of reality.
So, I raise my right hand and solemnly swear that "Nothing but the Truth" is about as good as legal thrillers get.