Wednesday, May 24, 2006

book review: Presumed Guilty

Title: Presumed Guilty
Author: James Scott Bell
Publisher: Zondervan
Genre: Fiction General, Suspense
ISBN: 0310253314


Ron’s been acting strange for weeks, snapping at her and sleeping in the den. But when the police come banging on the door at 4:37 a.m., Dallas knows something is terribly wrong. By the end of Chapter Three and just sixty pages into James Scott Bell’s Presumed Guilty, we’re well into the unraveling of life as it was for Pastor Ron Hamilton and his wife Dallas. And after Ron’s arrest things continue to fall apart.

Setbacks and new information about the case cause Dallas to question if she ever really knew the man she married. Her high-maintenance war-damaged son, 24-year-old Jared, returns home bringing with him a whole set of other issues. And finally a ghost from her past appears in the menacing flesh, sending this reader’s suspensometer into the nail-biting range.

The plot is devious and intricate. (I guess we shouldn’t be surprised since Bell has written a book on the subject.) To untangle the mystery of whether Ron really did kill Melinda Chance, Bell takes us on a path of twists and turns. We find Dallas in a coffee shop with a private investigator, in a back alley, then a seedy bar doing sleuth work of her own, and in and out of the courtroom (where as a lawyer, Bell doesn’t hesitate to attempt to bedazzle us with his knowledge of the milieu and the lingo, even though I sometimes wondered, why do I need to know that). By book’s end and despite having kept my eyes peeled for her all the way, I have to admit Bell’s plotting had worked its sleight of hand on me (occasional consumer that I am of crime novels and TV). The final revelations, though predictable as to which big causes and players won and lost, gave me a case of mental whiplash.

The Christian worldview of the book’s main characters is outspoken. Through this lens Bell explores a wide-ranging set of themes from a dissection-at-close-range of sexual temptation and the pull of pornography, to spousal control and abuse (especially through minor characters Tiana and Jamaal, and Dallas’s involvement with an abused woman shelter), to parenting and father-son matters (through Jared and Ron), to forgiveness, to prayer and spiritual warfare, to even a treatise of sorts on the spiritual implications of Babylon. Oh, and there was another angel sighting (that’s two in my last three books).

The main character, maternal and idealistic Dallas, is likeable, strong, and seemingly unflappable. In fact at times she seems almost unrealistically so when, as the stakes rise, she roams the city in a most carefree way without even a look behind her, despite the fact her stalker is on the loose.

Bell limits our interchanges with Ron (who creeped me out – shallow, self-seeking and immature as he was) to brief journal entries – which give little away.

The couple’s daughter Cara plays a minor family anchor-type part.

Messed up Jared changes the most in the story. It is through him that the author explicitly lays out his faith cards.

Other secondary players, though somewhat one-dimensional, act in character, the prose is tight, the conversation terse and realistic, and there is just enough time between tense scenes to put one off one’s guard. It all works together to produce an entertaining and deliciously jumpy read.

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Disclaimer: The book Presumed Guilty was sent to me by Active Christian Media as a gift from the publisher who donated the books for reviewers.


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