The 7th Canon by Robert Dugoni
Suspense > Mystery
At first, I was reminded of a Grisham novel, and since I’m not a fan, I wasn’t expecting much. But while the main character, Peter Donley, a third-year lawyer who is smart and will fight for the underdog like a character from a Grisham book, he’s likeable and unique—he reminded me of Will Hunting from Good Will Hunting.
Peter works for his uncle Lou, and when Lou is sidelined with a heart attack just before the Christmas holiday, it’s up to Peter to get started with what he thinks will just be postponing a plea for a priest accused of murdering a boy at the shelter he runs.
The novel is set in 1987. It turns out the reason for that is because the author wrote the book two decades ago, when car phones were an exotic luxury and cell phones were not yet a thing. While the world is a very different place when you can’t immediately call or text or Google someone or something, the one problem I had with this book is that it was considered common knowledge that there was a cover up about pedophile priests. That’s anachronistic because that didn’t become common knowledge until 2002 when the Boston Globe (and subsequently many other papers and magazines) wrote about it.
Ignoring that, everything else about this book was page-turning and terrific. Peter Donley is smart and brave and a caring husband and father to a three-year-old. He makes a wonderful protagonist.
The priest accused of murder was once a juvenile delinquent, so after turning his life around, he’s taken it upon himself to help the boys of the Tenderloin district in San Francisco who often turn to selling their bodies to obtain drugs. They are runaways because they are running from bad homes or because of their addiction—Father Martin doesn’t care, he just wants to be there to help if/when they are ready for help. If not, he’ll just ensure they have a warm, dry bed for the night.
On the rainy night that opens the novel, he happens upon a dead body of a runaway, and the cops rush in and arrest him. Some of the evidence is collected improperly, without a warrant, which works to Peter’s favor—he hopes he can get that evidence thrown out. Until more evidence comes to light that implicates Father Martin and Peter can’t get it thrown out.
Between Peter and a private investigator, Frank Ross, their best chance of freeing Father Martin is finding the real murderer themselves. In that way, the story is much less of a legal thriller than it is a PI-whodunit-and-how-do-you-prove-it story.
The 7th Canon, by the way, means, (according to Peter in the book) “A lawyer should represent a client zealously within the bounds of the law.”
This is a fun, fast-paced book. I highly recommend.