The 7th Canon, by Robert Dugoni

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Robert Dugoni, and Thomas & Mercer for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

Stepping away from his two successful series, Dugoni released this standalone novel that mixes the detail of a legal drama with the excitement of a crime thriller to create something captivating. Taking the reader back to 1987, Degoni explores the rough Tenderloin District of San Francisco, where Father Thomas Martin is tending to the duties of the boys shelter he runs. Father Martin comes upon the body of a young man, new to the shelter and with an unknown past. Before he can call for help, the police raid the shelter and Martin has been arrested for murder. The Archdiocese turns to the small firm it has trusted for years, staffed with a gritty lawyer, Lou Giantelli and his young associate, Peter Donley. With little criminal experience and only in his third year of practice, Donley is still cutting his teeth on the legal maneuvers required for greatness and remains indebted to Uncle Lou, who never doubted him. When a medical emergency puts Lou out of commission, Donley must take up the reins and begins defending Father Martin. However, something seems off, as the District Attorney and his team are pushing for a plea deal, though they have a history of never pleading out first-degree murder charges. As Donley learns the legal ropes, his client, vilified by media outlets, is tossed to the wolves by the prison authorities. Refusing to take any deal, Father Martin directs Donley to not only push to exclude a handful of damning evidence, but also to find the real killer, which is the only hope of exonerating him. Donley digs deeper with the help of the firm’s private investigator and uncovers a deep secret that connects the DA’s office with a dirty cop, though much is speculation and conjecture. Risking his life as he plods on, Donley not only seeks to redeem his client but also to wrestle with the demons from his own past. Sometimes even the Hand of God cannot save an innocent lamb from the slaughter, as Donley is apt to learn. Dugoni pulls readers into this wonderful novel and does not ease up on the action until the final page has been turned.

While the novel is crafted along the lines of being a one-off, its character development and backstories are significant and well-balanced. The reader is able not only to form a connection to Peter Donley and Father Martin, but also the destructive DA and rogue detective who will stop at nothing to get their way. Readers learn more as the story progresses, though there is something to be said about the wonderful flashbacks into Donley’s past that reveal a very dark time in his youth. I have come to notice that Dugoni enjoys setting his novels in the past, sometimes a year or two earlier, though this one takes readers back to 1987, when the law was fought with precedents found in bound tomes and not at the click of webpage. While the technological issue does not rear its head too much, it seems the pure approach to legal thrillers, when media were print and film rather than the 24 hour news cycle and criminals were not instantly alerted to a manhunt for them, makes for a stronger story and adds an element of dramatic effect. Additionally, Dugoni tackles a few social issues within the story, one of which relates directly to the novel’s title. The 7th Canon is that codified assurance that an attorney will do all he or she can to represent their client, stopping at nothing within the parameters of the law. This is the impetus that Donley uses when faced with a client who is potentially a child murderer and pedophile. It spurns him on to do all in his power to offer a thorough defence. Secondly, the Roman Catholic Church, which has been the punching bag and butt of many jokes for their dirty priests, receives much maligned coverage for a small population. Dugoni clarifies that it is only this drop in the proverbial bucket that sully the name of the Church entirely. These two pillars, combined with a strong narrative and wonderful dialogue create a brilliant piece worthy of reading by anyone with a strong aversion to the law and justice. One might find a third social issue, which arises out of the locale chosen for the novel, at a time when alternative lifestyles were flourishing and San Francisco remained on the cusp of leading the country towards acceptance. This does come up, both within the narrative and as a political issue in the late 1980s. Without the stuffy and drawn-out trial to weigh good versus evil, Dugoni uses the reader’s gut to act as a jury while pushing Donley into the middle of a race for truth and justice, not always synonymous. Even though David Sloane and Tracy Crosswhite both had significant time to hash out their issues and make an indelible mark on the minds of Dugnoni fans, Peter Donley does so effectively in this single book and for that much praise is due the author.

Kudos, Mr. Dugoni for another addictive piece of writing. I am eager to read more of your work and hope that you are able to keep coming up with fresh ideas.