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.