Father Thomas Martin - who sports a shaved head, earring, and tattoo - runs a shelter for homeless boys in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco. When the bloody body of a teenage youth, Andrew Bennet, is found in the shelter's recreation room, Father Martin is accused of murder.
Lou Giantelli's law firm represents Father Martin and Lou plans to defend the priest himself. First, though, Lou sends his nephew Peter Donley - a young attorney inexperienced in criminal law - to accompany the priest to the preliminary hearing. When Lou suffers a sudden heart attack the Catholic Archdiocese arranges for another law firm to represent Father Martin. However Peter convinces the Archbishop to let HIM defend the priest even though the 'tough on crime' D.A. is expected to seek the death penalty.
As it turns out, the D.A. has a problem.The first detective at the crime scene, Dixon Connor, did a warrantless search of the priest's room and the 'best evidence' may be inadmissable. The D.A. can't offer a plea bargain for political reasons so he tries to manipulate Peter into requesting one. Moreover, the D.A. rushes the legal proceedings even though it's Christmas season. At this point I expected the story to involve an exciting courtroom battle, with Peter pitting his wits against a wily prosecutor. I was wrong.
It turns out that powerful men have been consorting with underage boy prostitutes - and someone has videotapes of the encounters. Moreover, two adolescent boys in San Francisco were killed prior to Andrew Bennet, but the investigations were cursory and no one was arrested. In a separate plotline, a past accusation of rape led to a ruined career and a suicide.....and someone wants revenge. So the book is actually a thriller with plenty of action including: blackmail; breaking and entering; threats; beatings; abductions; frantic car rides; vicious guard dogs; and so on.
To say more would be a spoiler but I can say that Peter, trying to prove Father Martin's innocence, gets involved in some dangerous situations. The attorney also has frequent flashbacks to his abusive alcoholic father who died in suspicious circumstances. Luckily, Peter didn't follow in his father's footsteps. The attorney is happily married with a baby and a dog.
Interesting characters in the story include Frank Ross - a suspended cop/private investigator who helps Peter; Red - a boy on the run who was at the shelter on the night of the murder; D.A. Gil Ramsey - who's determined to be next California Governor; Augustus Ramsey - the D.A.'s pushy overbearing father; Dixon Connor - an old style rough and tumble cop; and more.
I've read other books by Robert Dugoni, which were well-plotted and well-written. When I started this 'new book' I expected it to be just as good....but it's not.
As I was reading I kept thinking: "This seems like a first novel. Some of the plot points and action sequences feel like rookie writing." And during one intense scene the perp - holding a gun on our hero - calmly explains the whole crime, why it was done, how it was done, etc. Most experienced authors don't write like this (anymore). So I wasn't too surprsed when - at the end of the book - Robert Dugoni explains that he wrote this story 20 years ago and recently 'revised it' for publication. Several of the book's main characters are based on Dugoni's close friends and relatives, and he wanted to see the book in print. The bottom line is that this book isn't as well crafted as the author's more recent work.
Still, it's a good story with plenty of action and suspense. I think mystery/thriller fans would enjoy it.
Thanks to Netgalley, the author, and the publisher for a copy of the book.