Courtroom thrillers often have cookie cutter plots, i.e., a charismatic lawyer defends a wrongly accused client at a tense trial with proof of innocence arriving at the last minute. On the surface, Under Fire fits that mold, but lifts it to a more interesting level. Per the formula, the accused, Amina Diallo, a Senegalese Muslim immigrant, is a sympathetic character and the lawyer (or in this case lawyers—a former prosecutor, Sarah Lynch, and her flamboyant uncle) are dedicated to seeing justice served. Amina is accused of both burning down her business to collect the insurance and of murdering the fireman who tried to rescue her and her son. Sarah is a combination of legal smarts and determination (she’s also a former US Olympic hockey player and medalist) who left law after a professional mistake led to a personal tragedy. She lets her Uncle Buddy, a famous Boston defense lawyer, talk her into assisting him to defend Amina. But with the entire city of Boston convinced she is guilty, it isn’t an easy job.
Although not dissimilar to other courtroom books, in Under Fire it is the trial itself that lifts it above the norm. First time author McLean, herself a criminal prosecutor, knows her law, and, more importantly, how to tell a story. During the trial scenes she centers attention on the jurors and interprets events through them rather than the lawyers. The ebb and flow of the trial is registered mostly through their eyes, each with a separate perspective and each with a firm opinion. The jury’s decision after days of deliberation is surprising, but logical. For a new author, McLean writes like an old pro. She knows Boston; her story is as up-to-date and topical as today’s headlines. This debut effort bodes well for what promises to be a winning career for the author and for Sarah Lynch and her bow tie-wearing Uncle Buddy.