By Charles Winecoff
Updated June 01, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT

It’s hard to believe that the author of ”The Defense” and ”The Prosecution,” two brilliant legal thrillers, is also responsible for this plodding, contrived novel that brings back philosophical attorney Joseph Antonelli. This time around, the lawyer must defend a homeless psychotic accused of murdering a judge in a vicious copycat crime. What could have been a riveting examination of mental illness, the judicial system, corruption, and diabolical vengeance is instead an unconvincing jumble of standard plot and subplot. Worse, Buffa tends to advance his narrative via humorless dialogue that’s so unnatural it very nearly creaks.