The scene comes from the book’s first chapter, and sets up pretty much everything that happens in the rest of the book. The scene is told through the eyes of the main character, Robert Bratt. He watches a rape trial unfold and sees a young victim, who also happens to be his daughter’s best friend, crumble under cross-examination. For a criminal lawyer this is all part of a day’s work, but seeing it as an outsider he realizes that this is not an attempt at uncovering the truth, but a strategy to win at all costs. The truth, like the young woman, becomes a victim here.
This raises the themes of truth and morality that are examined in the book. As a criminal lawyer Bratt is a sworn officer of the court with ethical rules he must obey, yet as a paid representative of sometimes violent criminals he is obliged to do whatever he has to in order to defend his clients. These are questions that lawyers do not, for the most part, spend their time worrying about. Quite simply, they get in the way of doing the job to the best of a lawyer’s ability, which is also something he is ethically obliged to do.
When a personal interest does get arise, and a lawyer starts seeing things like an outsider, it becomes hard to perform his sworn duty. On the other hand, if he is so intent on winning at all costs, then he can bend the rules of ethics until they’re all but unrecognizable. This delicate balance is what Bratt begins to ponder as he watches the other defence attorney at work in this scene. In the following days and weeks, as he goes about his own practice, and prepares for a murder trial, he has to decide how he can best defend his client while being true to the demands of his newly-awakened conscience. It is a sometimes impossible balancing act.