"Engaging characters elevate this courtroom drama beyond the conventional."– Kirkus Reviews
In Bello’s debut legal thriller, a case against a pedophile priest in Michigan leads a lawyer to confront a secret organization that’s willing to go to great lengths to protect the church.
Jennifer Tracey’s sons have had trouble adjusting in the three years since their father died. But after a church-sponsored, overnight camping trip, 14-year-old Kenny and preteen Jake become especially distant and anti-social. Jennifer believes that something happened at the overnighter, and she zeros in on Our Lady of the Lakes Church’s assistant pastor, the Rev. Gerry Bartholomew. Psychiatrist Harold Rothenberg later confirms her fears that the pastor molested her boys. She opts to take her fight to court, believing that the publicity will force the church to take action and ultimately prevent Bartholomew from hurting another child. She goes to the only attorney she knows, Zack Blake, who’d handled her late husband’s industrial accident. After Zack was booted out of his law firm by his partners, he lost almost everything in his divorce, and he hopes for an easy paycheck by settling Jennifer’s case. But she’s more interested in justice than money. Meanwhile, it turns out that a clandestine group called the Coalition is fully aware of the pastor’s disturbing penchant, and due to their machinations, Zack’s investigator, Micah Love, has difficulty finding other families that the priest has harmed—although he does find a dead body. In this dramatic thriller, Bello handles the delicate subject of sexual abuse of children with tact, making clear what Bartholomew did without explicit details. In a wise move, the author sporadically returns the focus from the main characters to the story’s victims: Kenny and Jake. Although the eventual trial covers plot points that readers already know, the characters remain dynamic. Jennifer has unwavering determination (she says no to plea offers in the millions); Zack is initially unlikable as he treats the serious case as a money grab; and the Coalition’s leader, the Voice, is eerie in his anonymity. But although a few characters sing the praises of modern technology, the language on that subject doesn’t seem quite as up-to-date; cellphones, for example, are referred to as “mobile phones,” and the word “DVD” is used for both the disc and the player.
Engaging characters elevate this courtroom drama beyond the conventional.
In Bello’s (Betrayal of Faith, 2016) latest thriller featuring Michigan attorney Zack Blake, a Muslim woman seeking justice for hate crimes becomes the prime suspect for the murder of a white supremacist.
Ronald John won the U.S. presidency on the platform of ridding the country of a “Muslim scourge.” White supremacist Keith Blackwell fully supports the president and, believing it’s time for action, initiates a series of anti-Muslim crimes in Dearborn, including firebombing a mosque. Twenty-five-year-old Arya Khan has serious doubts about authorities’ devotion to finding the criminal, though a task force led by chief of detectives Jack Dylan locks onto a suspect. When Arya learns it’s Keith, she plans to bring him to justice only to inadvertently witness someone stab him to death. She calls 911 and hurries to Keith’s aid, but to police at the scene, the bloody woman looks like a prime suspect. Zack takes Arya’s case, and with evidence stacked against her, he’s convinced the only way out is to identify the actual killer. That turns out to be the most crucial issue, since the killer, presuming Arya saw him, wants to make certain she stays quiet—permanently. Bello’s novel is unmistakably topical. President John’s plan involves securing America’s borders from illegal immigrants. This further adds another layer to the already sympathetic Arya; her parents are just two of the numerous Muslims in danger of deportation. Notwithstanding a spotlight on the recurring protagonist, there’s apt coverage of the task force. Jack, who mocks Arya’s profession of innocence, may soon believe her, much like detective (and fellow Muslim) Shaheed Ali. Accordingly, there’s only a modicum of courtroom scenes, but Zack’s legal mindset evokes refreshingly blunt dialogue: he predicts that prosecutors and cops “will not want to admit that the terrorist in this case is the white guy.” The story’s baddies are blatantly villainous, Bello making it abundantly clear that bigotry is deplorable.
Commendable sophomore effort, even when the protagonist takes a back seat.