Central Park West by James Comey

Plenty of people still blame former F.B.I. chief James Comey for the dire result of the 2016 election, because of his ill-timed reopening of the probe into Hillary Clinton’s e-mails. I made myself pick up his debut legal thriller with an open mind, and, I must admit, Comey acquits himself like a pro.

You can’t argue with his credentials. Comey served as deputy attorney general under George W. Bush, and as head of the F.B.I. under both Obama and Trump. Before that he was the top federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, so he knows the justice system inside out.

His knowledge of the friction between state and federal agencies, which don’t always play nicely together, provides grist for the story of the collision of two made-in-tabloid-heaven cases: the state trial of Kyra Burke, accused of murdering her husband, the disgraced former governor of New York (any resemblance to Andrew Cuomo is surely coincidental), and the federal prosecution of Dominic D’Amico, head of the city’s biggest crime family (any resemblance to the Gambino family, which Comey prosecuted in 2002, is probably intentional).

It’s not looking great for Kyra, a glamorous law professor and activist whose husband got #MeToo’d out of office and is subsequently murdered in his Central Park West apartment. Video evidence of someone who resembles Kyra entering and leaving their building at the time of the murder in an Hermès scarf and Jackie O sunglasses points to her as the culprit. She’s also got a financial motive and might strike a jury as a cool customer, which makes her defense attorney nervous: “Despite all the bullshit about Martha Stewart flourishing in jail, women like Kyra Burke didn’t do well in prison. And Martha had done five months in a minimum-security-club-fed; Kyra was staring at life in a New York state prison.”

But when a proffer of information to a judge by D’Amico during his trial casts doubt on her guilt and ends badly for the mobster, the federal prosecutor’s office and the F.B.I., who have been working long and hard to nail him, have to pivot to a different line of inquiry.

James Comey’s knowledge of the friction between state and federal agencies provides grist for the collision of two made-in-tabloid-heaven cases.

Comey toils earnestly to make Nora Carleton, a harried single mom and prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, the heart of the book. She’s based on his daughter Maurene, who shares Nora’s job and successfully prosecuted Ghislaine Maxwell for sex trafficking. Somebody deserves a very special Father’s Day gift this year.

Comey testifies at his confirmation hearing as members of his family look on, 2013.

But Nora is upstaged by her colleague Benny Dugan, a legendary organized-crime investigator and outsize Brooklyn-born character who walks right up to the line with his methods. He maintains useful relationships with Mafia families by showing respect for their traditions and notions of honor, an attitude that’s reciprocated.

Together, Benny and Nora enlist a small army of acronymed agencies (your tolerance for this alphabet soup may be tested) to get at the truth behind D’Amico’s tip. Benny works his informants and Mafia connections, and Benny and Nora’s F.B.I. partners deploy all manner of cool technology to track down the elusive killer.

The courtroom scenes in Central Park West are among the book’s highlights, particularly the sweaty, O.T.T. antics of D’Amico’s Listerine-chugging, Polo-scented lawyer. (Comey doesn’t even try to disguise the model for this character; Salvatore Butler is just a consonant away from John Gotti’s lawyer, Bruce Cutler.) Kyra’s attorney is a master of the meaningful pause and artfully emphasized phrase, but beneath the suave confidence, Comey lets us know what he’s usually thinking: “We’re fucked.”

Central Park West features a disgraced former governor of New York (any resemblance to Andrew Cuomo is surely coincidental) and the head of the city’s biggest crime family (any resemblance to the Gambino family is probably intentional).

Unsurprisingly for someone steeped in the intricacies and minutiae of the law, Comey the fiction writer turns out to be an obsessive observer. No detail escapes his notice, from trial fashion choices to the mixed bag of architecture represented by the government buildings of Lower Manhattan.

Here’s his description of an especially intimidating courtroom: “It was like an architecture class final exam—thirty-foot-high dark-stained oak walls with round arches and fluted ionic pilasters supporting what seemed to be an acre of cream-colored ceiling.... Four enormous brass and cast-ivory bowl pendant lights hung menacingly down from the ceiling, ready to drop on anyone who disrespected the gods of justice.”

The justice gods who preside over the proceedings in Central Park West don’t unleash any light fixtures, but they do drop the ball a bit when it comes to identifying the guilty. They only get it half-right in a twisty dénouement that’s preceded by plotting that’s tight and inventive throughout.

Many former politicians and government officials, going way back if you count Harry Truman’s daughter, Margaret, have tried their hand at writing mysteries and thrillers with varying degrees of success, but Comey pulls it off better than most. A sequel is already in the pipeline—the man who got fired by Donald Trump and whose daughter/muse helped put Ghislaine Maxwell away is unlikely to run out of material.

Lisa Henricksson reviews mystery books for AIR MAIL. She lives in New York City