The Thrill is Gone

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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.

 

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Book Lovers’ Spring Training

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Those of us in the freezing Midwest anxiously await when baseball players report for spring training because it signals a thaw, and intimates hot summer days quaffing cold beer and cheering when a player cranks one out of the ballpark. Likewise, when Mystery Writers of America announces the 2017 nominees for the annual Edgar Allan Poe Awards, it signals a spring of sorts: a fresh batch of books for the lover of mystery novels, multiple categories from which to choose, and enough titles to be relished all summer while quaffing a cold beer and cheering when a writer hits the proverbial home run.

This year I will read and review 11 books in two categories:

Best Novel:

  1. The Ex by Alafair Burke
  2. Where it Hurts by Reed Farrel Coleman
  3. Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
  4. What Remains of Me by Alison Gaylin
  5. Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Best Original Paperback:

  1. Shot in Detroit by Patricia Abbott
  2. Come Twilight by Tyler Dilts
  3. The 7th Canon by Robert Dugoni
  4. Rain Dogs by Adrian McKinty
  5. A Brilliant Death by Robin Yocum
  6. Heart of Stone by James W. Ziskin

Each novel will receive a ranking on a scale of one to ten after its review, and I will predict each winner in the above-named categories. MWA announces the winners on April 27th. My writing buddy, Karen Burgess, is already several books ahead of me with her Literary Lunchbox blog reviews of the Edgars. In her annual attempt at the same feat, Karen is more ambitious than I am (and a devotee of Evelyn Wood speed reading, I suspect), reading and reviewing an additional category, Best First Novel, for a total of 17 books. Sometimes we agree in our estimations, sometimes we arrive at completely opposite opinions regarding the same book. Either way, we both love reading and writing, and enjoy a great friendship as a result. We hope our friendly competition provides you with entertaining reviews and new writers to investigate.