Robert Dugoni’s The 7th Canon is the next nominee in the Best Original Paperback category for Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Awards. The title evokes this tenet: A lawyer should represent a client zealously within the bounds of law. Peter Donley, a young defense attorney, takes this canon to heart. When his uncle and boss, seasoned lawyer Lou Giantelli, is hospitalized, Donley must shoulder representing a priest who runs a homeless shelter and has been accused of murdering one of its young men. There is plenty of incriminating evidence found by a intense (read crazed) cop, but Father Martin claims innocence and would prefer to take a gamble on being tried and sentenced to death rather than admitting guilt and doing time. Donley’s only choice is to find out who really killed Andrew Bennett, and the game’s afoot.

Donley does the best he can and is ably assisted by retired cop, Frank Ross. There are some twists and turns involving a state senator and his creepy father, who try to influence the case against the priest (with predictable results regarding why). There is plenty of backstory regarding violent fathers and their effect on the sons, and there are many characters filling out this “thriller.” In fact, the opening chapters of the story introduce so many characters I had a hard time keeping them all straight and had to continually page back to recall the names and the occupations.

Trouble is, I found none of the characters compelling nor did I care about what would happen to them. The story itself was not remotely thrilling or suspenseful. Dugoni’s writing style does little to recommend him. Here are a couple of examples of an irritating habit of explaining a character’s dialogue:

“How are things at the office?” Like most lawyers, Lou needed to know what was happening at work. 

“The back steps will be a problem,” she said. They were narrow and steep.

Dugoni also has a loose grip on point of view, switching among several characters, which doesn’t cue the reader about the character’s importance nor does it allow the reader to feel invested in championing the protagonist. Most of the characters presented are stock and two-dimensional (the crazed cop, the crooked politician, the honest priest, the rookie lawyer with a secret) and forgettable. This kind of book serves a purpose (something to consume while on a long flight?), but does not belong on the short list for a prestigious award.

On a scale of one to ten, I rate this book a two.