From time to time I swap books with a distant aunt of my wife (distance, in this case, actually means all the way from Ontario, Canada to Germany). She has a knack for finding good legal thrillers, a gift which I did come to appreciate quite often in the last five or so years.
Well, this time I got a something really astonishing; this year I got a six hundred page novel called guilty as sin written by Tami Hoag.
Never heard of her.
Surely one of these wannabe Grishams who trail the godfather of legal fiction in order to grab a fast buck.
Well, yes, the title. Guilty as sin! Probably indicating a Barbara Cartland style piece of work ( which I really surmised up to that point).
However, you can imagine my surprise when I learned that the above mentioned Tami Hoag is responsible for more than thirteen consecutive novels on the New York Times bestseller list (you can check out on anyone on Wikipedia these days).
Now it's me who is feeling guilty. Guilty of the sins of ignorance and pride. Maybe I should read the newspaper more often, at least the good ones.
Well, let's get back to the story.
An eight year old boy is abducted by an unknown kidnapper, only to be returned after a couple of days in a severely traumatized state. A possible suspect is a popular college professor, caught more or less red handed after allegedly having assaulted and crippled an investigating female agent who happens to be the girlfriend of the local chief of police.
Ellen North, the disillusioned District attorney of Deer Lake, a rural backwater in the rural state of Minnesota, tries to build a solid case against the defendant while finding herself heavily distracted by the amorous advances of Jay Butler Brooks, a charming but mysterious writer of true crime stories who ostensibly investigates the scene for a new book. Another suspect is the boy's father who has recently split from his wife and is secretly in love with the professor's estranged wife.
Ellen is followed by an ominous stalker and suddenly a second child disappears in a neighboring town, a development which casts serious doubts on her prosecution strategy.
The chief of police wants to see the professor behind bars for allegedly being responsible for his lover's busted career.
Got it? If not, don't worry.
Hoag takes her time to introduce and develop her characters; a complex net of relations connects different angles of the story in clever and sometimes rather astounding ways (although I really don't see the necessity for three investigating cops from three different law enforcement agencies).
Guilty as sin isn't just a mere courtroom thriller, although it contains all the elements which usually appeals to fans of this genre; it also isn't the classic whodunit, though you will find the plot rippling with suspense from the very first page to the baffling, nerve rattling end.
It's a combination of both, maybe even more than that. Maybe it's the sense of humor which makes guilty of sin so extraordinary. The story is bristling with dry wit and savvy dialogues which develop screwball comedy standard whenever the somewhat spry D.A. faces the cocky writer Jay Butler Brook.
Well, enough praise. If you're looking for a piece of real entertainment, go and read guilty of sin.
And me? I'm going to buy everything by Tami Hoag I can lay my hands on.
If she only picked better titles.