Dark Lady is a mystery novel written by Richard North Patterson.
It is a complex story that talks about politics, political corruption, organized crime, big construction projects, misappropriation of public money and influential people with some of their darkest secrets exposed.
Dark Lady is a 'dark' novel. I was particularly disturbed by the masochistic love making scenes and by the vivid description of the mutilation of bodies by a cold blooded killer.
Patterson's characters are complex, believable individuals with their own secrets that the author exposes to move the story along. By following their life stories, the characters seem real. Their dialogues , both spoken and in thoughts, allow us to see into their soul and understand their motivations.
The protagonist of the story is a young, ambitious Assistant County Prosecutor, Stella Marz (Marzewski) who was given the nickname Dark Lady by a courtroom deputy due to her "ruthless" cross-examination practices. She has lived in Steelton, a city divided by Onondaga river into the West and East sides beside lake Erie, all her life.
Stella was a daughter of the West Side - known as Warszawa - where a wave of Polish immigrants "poor, hardworking, Roman Catholic and largely illiterate" settled in the late 19th century.
Among those newcomers was Stella's grandfather, Carol Marzewski. He too was offered a job in America by Amasa Hall, a wealthy owner of steel mills, who paid his workers as little as possible and became rich in the process.
This is how Stella remembers stories about the early settlers and her ancestors.
At twenty-three, Stella Marz, decided to leave her parent's home, unwilling to accept a life of poverty and enduring abuses by her old-fashioned father (Armin Marz), whose loss of job left him "unemployed and bitter."
She landed a job at the Jack Novaks's law firm in Steelton city. Wealthy, influential, attractive at his thirty eight years of age, Novak offered Stella a refuge from poverty and family unhappiness and supported her law-school studies. Nothing was given to Stella. As an honor student Stella had worked diligently through college and law school.
She fell in love with Jack Novak. Her boss. Stella believed she had found a partner at law, a lover who could understand her, only to learn with time that Jack was a troubled man.
Not only was Jack Novak the lawyer of the ruthless Mafia head Vincent Moro, who paid Jack well to bribe whoever could be bought in the Police and the justice department in Steelton county, but Moro practically owned Jack. That and Jack's strange sexual fantasies aided by use of drugs and third party either watching or part-taking in sexual orgies, made Stella decide to leave Jack Novak and his firm.
As his gesture of good will, Novak offered Stella his help in getting her a job as the Assistant County Prosecutor working for Arthur Bright. Stella proved to be a great lawyer and having passed the Bar exam, her ambitions grew as well.
Arthur Bright was the first African-American ever elected Prosecutor of Erie County. It was he who had eventually made Stella Head of the prosecutor's homicide unit. Bright aspired to become the Mayor of Steelton city, which was the reason he entered the 2000 Mayoral race. Stella's ambition to become the first woman elected Prosecutor of Erie County depended on how successful Bright would be in defeating the current Mayor, Thomas Krajak, who was running for re-election.
To replace Bright, Stella needed his endorsement. Bright, on the other hand needed Stella to campaign for him in the Warszawa among predominantly white and racially biased voters. Both have devoted much of their professional life to a fight against drugs, demanding and enforcing tougher, stiffer sentences, more education and better treatment facilities.
Thomas Krajak, the current Steelton's Mayor, believed that his ticket to re-election was to build the baseball stadium. The $ 275 million project that he named "Steelton 2000" would benefit not only the biggest local developer, Peter Hall and his company Hall Development, but also every other contractor, as well as the city itself. According to the agreement, Hall Development would share any savings in construction with the city. The city will benefit from new tax revenues from jobs created as well as sales of baseball and concert tickets, All-Star games and other events. That was Krajak's pitch in "selling" the Steelton 2000 project to the voters.
Krajak needed Peter Hall on this project. Peter unlike his heartless, former steel baron grandfather Amasa, was very respected in the business community and popular in the county. He was a graduate of prep school and Princeton and with guaranteed career in business and the fourth generation of inherited wealth, Peter Hall entered the Steelton 2000 project not only to earn more money and have the stadium for his "Blues" baseball team but also to attract more businesses to the city and create more needed jobs.
To coordinate the business and to overlook the payments to contractors and subcontractors, Peter Hall hired Thomas Fielding as the project supervisor for Steelton 2000.
Thomas Fielding was totally devoted to his job of checking and certifying that the compliance goals are being met. The agreement between Hall Development and the City guaranteed Steelton 2000 thirty percent of the work performed by the workers of minorities. The minority general contractor was a company called the Alliance Company.
After thirteen months working on the project Steelton 2000, Thomas Fielding was found dead. His Maid found his naked body in the bedroom of his townhouse next to a dead black prostitute, named Tina Welch. He died of an overdose of heroin.
Only a few days later another dead body was discovered. The Chief of Detectives, Nathaniel Dance informed Stella Marz of a homicide - "a big one". A unanimous caller alerted the police. Jack Novak was found hanging from his closet door. He wore a garter belt, stockings, and a pair of black high heels lay where they had fallen from his feet.
In search for motives and subsequently for the killer or killers of Thomas Fielding and Jack Novak, Stella discovers a dark secret of the County Prosecutor's Arthur Bright. A hidden tape in Jack Novak's home, discovered by Stella, showed a drugged Arthur Bright wearing a garter belt , stockings and a pair of black high heels while being pleasured by a prostitute. The tape also showed another person killing the prostitute after the act.
Arthur Bright was blackmailed by the mafia head Vincent Moro to support Steelton 2000. Moro ordered Jack Novak to do the "convincing" part. Jack Novak understood the consequence of failing to get Bright to comply. Bright did not agree and consequently Novak was executed. The way Novak's body was mutilated was a warning to Bright.
Stella suspected that Moro was involved in the Fielding's murder as well. Only this time it was Mayor Krajak who demanded of Peter Hall that Fielding continue signing the performance reviews of the Alliance Company's subcontractors. Fielding refused to sign the bills and review performances when he realized that there was no Alliance Company; that it existed only on paper and that the city was robbed of millions of dollars. Fielding was convinced that the money was going to someone with whom Mayor Krajak had an agreement with. Krajak informed Moro of Fielding's refusal to cooperate. Fielding was found dead soon after.
The killer of Fielding and Novak was the man who was seen killing the prostitute on the tape, an old school buddy of Vincent Moro, a senior police officer Johnny Curran. Moro gave the execution orders personally to Curran, who in turn completed them.
The only killing that police was able to pin to Moro, was his killing of Johnny Curran during the last secret meeting between them. Curran was wearing wiretap.
As for Arthur Bright, the County Prosecutor... Unable to cope with the prospect of having his dark secret exposed and the shame he would bring onto his family, Bright commits suicide.
Dark Lady is not Richard Patterson's the most acclaimed novel. But it is well written and makes one think about social and moral issues connected to political decision-making in our daily lives.
Richard North Patterson has written fourteen bestselling and critically acclaimed novels. Formerly a trial lawyer, Patterson served as the SEC’s liaison to the Watergate special prosecutor and has served on the boards of several Washington advocacy groups dealing with gun violence, political reform, and women’s rights.
Dark Lady (424 pages) was published by The Ballantine Publishing Group in 2000.