Cover image for Irreparable damage
Irreparable damage
Klempner, Joseph T.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Thomas Dunne Books, 2002.
Physical Description:
292 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


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It starts with some innocent family fun. Writer Stephen Barrow's divorced wife, involved in a second marriage, has willingly given Barrow the desired custody of their six-year-old daughter, Penny. Father and daughter share a relationship that is tender, poignant, and funny. Their home life in a small upstate New York town is a happy and entirely wholesome one.

One evening Penny, in her bath, delightedly pulls her shampoo-stiffened hair into what she thinks of as the horn of a "unicord," and her father takes her picture. When she "moons" him and says, "Take this one!" to oblige he clicks the shutter, although the roll of film was finished. Or so the mechanically challenged Barrow believed.

The next day, the local pharmacy clerk using the photo machine is shocked by the snapshot, decides Stephen is a child pornographer, and calls the police, who arrest him. That is only the first step in Stephen Barrow's descent into hell. A small-town police chief basking in a "real case," a vengeful ex-wife, a fledgling psychologist who tailors her patients' responses to fit her self-serving preconceptions, a District Attorney facing re-election -- all of these and more push Barrow deeper and deeper into the depths, until everything he has is taken from him, his freedom, his belongings, and most particularly his beloved daughter.

Irreparable Damage is a horror story. Not a horror story of monsters from the deep or roving homicidal psychopaths, but something much worse, something that batters at the readers' defenses. As anyone familiar with Klempner's previous books will know, he is a writer with the talent to bring his story home to his readers. As Irreparable Damage (based on an actual case) unfolds, its threat becomes more and more real. This could happen to anyone. It could happen to you !

Author Notes

Joseph T. Klempner has been a criminal defense attorney for over thirty years. He was formerly an undercover federal narcotics agent. He lives with his wife Sandy in upstate New York. Irreparable Damage is his fifth novel and fourth legal thriller.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

The third novel by this former defense lawyer begins with a warning: although the names may be fictional, the events are not. The story, in less talented hands, could have been prime movie-of-the-week fodder: a single father, innocently taking pictures of his six-year-old daughter, accidentally captures a snapshot of the little girl in a pose that someone not familiar with the circumstances might interpret as, shall we say, questionable. The father is arrested; his daughter is taken away from him. Add an ex-wife who will do anything to get her daughter back, some overzealous law-enforcement officials, and a lot of people who jump to unwarranted conclusions, and you could have a real ratings grabber. Thankfully, what we have instead is a thoughtful, intelligent drama, with characters who are three-dimensional and sympathetic. Readers will appreciate Klempner's delicate touch, his sensitive handling of this potentially controversial subject. Quite impressive. David Pitt.

Publisher's Weekly Review

The first third of this psychological thriller reads like a subpar true-crime book it is, in fact, based on actual events but eventually Klempner (Flat Lake in Winter) unspools a mind-bending tale of frustration, injustice and false accusation that is chillingly plausible. One night, during his six-year-old daughter Penny's bath, single dad Stephen Barrow snaps a few photos of his giggling child. Just as he takes the last shot, Penny playfully turns around and bends over. Barrow drops the film off for developing, but when the processor sees the final picture, she becomes outraged and calls 911. This sets in motion a nightmare series of events that strips Barrow not only of Penny and his freedom, but of his dignity, identity and even his sense of the true nature of his relationship with his precocious daughter. Aided by scruffy, smalltown attorney Flynt Adams and eventual love interest Theresa Mulholland, a crusading reporter, Barrow learns that in such cases the accused is guilty until proven innocent. Even worse, an underhanded DA, a therapist (who is a paid consultant for the prosecution) and Penny's bitter mother are all coaching Penny to lie. Although marred by amateurish writing Klempner never met a clich he didn't like, and he provides full backgrounds for even the most minor characters the book struggles out of its pedestrian opening chapters and develops tension and suspense as circumstance, coincidence and ineptitude conspire to prevent justice from being served. The surprise ending is straight out of The Bonfire of the Vanities, but gratifying nonetheless. Agent, Bob Diforio. Author tour. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved