When No One is Watching, by Joseph Hayes

Seven stars

Joseph Hayes puts forth an interesting premise in his novel, which sees two men—once best friends—take drastically different paths after a horrible night. After winning a significant legal case, Blair Van Howe and Danny Moran are celebrating together, allowing the champagne and anything else to flow freely. It is at this party that Van Howe divulges that he plans to announce a run for Congress the following morning. On the ride home, Blair sits behind the wheel, while Danny is barely able to stay conscious, both highly intoxicated. A near miss on the road turns fatal when a family swerves and slams into a tree, eventually killing the driver. Panicked and with Danny unconscious, Blair checks in on the victims before fleeing the scene, knowing full well that this will ruin any political ambitions. With a history of drunken stupor, Danny is the perfect scapegoat for the accident and is left to face charges. Blair announces his candidacy and is swept away by the political machine, while Danny faces ruin and is subsumed by the guilt of tearing a family apart. Danny accepts guilt for everything, choosing to turn his life around after serving jail time, even though some who were investigating are unsure of the truthfulness of the narrative. Meanwhile, Blair’s meteoric rise to fame continues until he has his eyes set on the White House. A sure winner, it is only a matter of time before ‘President Van Howe’ will be elected, though begins making noise about the accident and what may really have happened. Two men, one night, a brutal crime. One has served the punishment, but will the real criminal ever be brought to justice? Hayes leaves the reader wondering in this thriller that evolves over a decade. A decent quick read for those who like novels where all is known, it is just a matter of getting from A to B.

I have read a few of Hayes’ books over the last while and enjoyed them all. The characters push the story in some interesting directions, forcing the reader to live through their lives in order to get to the root of the plot. While Blair Van Howe and Danny Moran open the novel as the purported protagonists, it is Moran who takes the lead. The reader is able to see his spiral down after a single night of drinking, where rock bottom has cost him everything. Saved by the help of AA, Moran is able to put the pieces of his life together, though he never forgets the pain he caused one family. Still, he has shouldered the blame for it all, not thinking twice about his former best friend, Blair. Hayes creates a soft and sweet character here, perhaps the vessel that all things can be right if you find yourself and something on which to connect, in this case, AA. Meanwhile, Blair rides success from a run for Congress, a gubernatorial race, and then sets his eyes on the one place every politician dreams of finding themselves, the White House. However, as clean a life as he has been known to have, that one secret in his closet may be come out at the worst possible time. He seems detached from it all, ready to let others clean up the mess and hope for the best. His rise is literally handed to him over a number of pages, with no development, leaving the reader cheated of what could and should have been wonderful development. Others grace the pages of this book and provide the reader with a decent push forward, though there is nothing that will prepare them for the final handful of chapters in the book, when things get real, while still lacking the needed grit with the fodder Hayes has in waiting. The novel has a great premise and decent delivery, but there was so much time spend on Danny ‘finding himself’ and so little on developing the Blair rise to power, something was missing, as if the political aspect was tacked-on later to give it more pizzazz, but was not polished properly. If it had to be done in a single book, there needed to be more meat throughout, as this one seemed to meander for a bit, push forward a number of years, and then slowly develop some grit with too few chapters to really make sense of it all. Hayes does well, but it lacked the knockout I know he can deliver. A decent read for a beach day or when the rains keep the curious reader inside.

Kudos, Mr. Hayes, for a great novel. It needed just a little more teeth to make this novel sensation.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Consequential Damages, by Joseph Hayes

Eight stars

Returning to discover more by Joseph Hayes, I tripped upon this legal thriller that pulled me in from the opening pages. Exploring personal growth and the rigours of a courtroom drama, Hayes offers the reader something that will resonate long after they finish the final page. Jake McShane is a hard working law student at Stanford, striving to make the most of his education. When the tension all but eats him alive, it is a chance encounter with a medical student that shows him that there is a little more to life than meets the eye. After graduating, Jake finds himself returning to his native Chicago to practice, seeing some of the old drama he left behind when he moved West, but also finding it refreshing to be back where it all began. When his friend and former employer is sued for sexual harassment, Jake must watch from the sidelines as things go horribly wrong. Prosecuting the case is a former law school classmate, Rick Black, whose ruthless ways leave Jake feeling highly agitated. After a few years have passed, both Jake and Black find themselves on opposite sides of a large class-action lawsuit. With fierce determination, both sides push to win at all costs, though only one will stay within the lines of what is legal and ethical. Seeking retribution for the past, Jake must decide how to tackle Rick Black’s antics both inside and out of the courtroom. It will be up to the jury to decide which man has done all he can for the client. Hayes does a masterful job pulling the reader into the middle of the stellar thriller. Not to be missed by those who enjoy the law’s murkier side, or readers who may have read some of Hayes’ other work.

Truth be told, I was mesmerized by Hayes novel all about a wall on the US-Mexico border and could not fathom that he could write another piece with just as much impact. I was wrong, as this is another piece that inches the story along while getting the reader to commit from the start. Jake McShane is quite the character, totally focussed on his studies in the opening portion of the book, so much so that life is passing him by. After seeing the forest for the trees and marrying the one woman who could jolt him out of wasting his life, Jake finds himself back in Chicago where he seeks to remember life before law school. The backstory and character development come together nicely here, intertwining together and providing the reader with something relatable throughout the novel. Others grace the pages and find ways to advance a wonderfully balanced plot, tapping into the law and life on the streets of Chicago, without straying too far from the central tenets of the book. Interesting in its structure, Hayes (again) develops the young version of his central character over the first third of the book, peppering the narrative with the struggles of youth that might not seem relevant, but becomes essential to understanding the entire piece. From there, Jake moves into the world of the law, not what is found in textbooks, but on the streets and in the courtroom. There is little time to falter, as the law never sleeps and is always evolving, no matter who is at the helm. Hayes helps the reader discover this while developing a strong story. Mixing the short, teaser chapters with longer and more developed ones, the story progresses at breakneck speed before culminating in a major discovery that will solidify the entire legal battle. One can only hope there is more to come, for Joseph Hayes is a man with talent that readers will not want to dismiss.

Kudos, Mr. Hayes, for such a refreshing look at the law and the individual. I am glad that I stumbled upon your work!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Wall, by Joseph Hayes

Seven stars

In his recent publication, Joseph Hayes touches on some current hot-button topics, sure to stir the pot. The wall erected along the southern border of the United States is supposed to quell illegal immigration, but has served more as a means of challenging those who seek a better life in America. Sal Rios and his father learned that as they trekked from Mexico over the border one night, as the novel opens. With dangers all around them on both sides, the Rios family snuck through and set-up in a Texas town, hoping for the best. While Sal is trying to acclimate, he meets Bobby Rivera and Miguel Sanchez, two other boys his age. Bobby is the brains of the operation, able to score high marks in school and the son to two visa-carrying parents in the medical field. Miguel has been forced to scrounge just to make ends meet, seen more as a independent teen, with a single mom trying to juggle all the responsibilities. These three boys soon prove to be inseparable, making a name for themselves around school and getting into trouble. Sal’s father may not be the naive illegal immigrant that he wants people to believe, as the boys find out one night when they notice him ‘conducting business’. However, it is an accident that sees Miguel die and Sal take over his life, all planned through some of the businessmen that control the immigrant population in this rural Texas community. Move ahead twenty years, where the new “Michael ‘Miguel’ Sanchez” has become a prominent lawyer fighting for the rights of immigrants. After a headline-grabbing decision at the US Supreme Court, Sanchez is riding the wave of popularity. With it, comes the politicos, wondering if he might put his name forward for office. While bandying around the idea of a Senate run, someone insists that his independent candidacy for President of the United States might be just what the country needs to focus on immigration issues, particularly those of the illegal variety around the Mexican border. While Sanchez is weighing his options, Bobby Rivera has been living a simple life, though is impressed to see that someone is making noise about immigration issues. With a good job and ties to the community, Rivera watches as this new face on the political scene seems to be rising in popularity at just the right time. However, Bobby knows the dark secret that could bring the Sanchez Campaign down. With a plan to see Sanchez align himself with one of the mainstream campaigns as a VP candidate, his political future seems firmly controlled by others, forcing him to remain quiet. As Bobby tries to help his friend dodge those mean him harm, he becomes entangled in a situation that could have dire consequences ahead of this important presidential election. A well-crafted piece whose political intrigue held strong for most of the novel, but waned in the last handful of chapters.

I noticed this book on the Kindle Unlimited website and knew that I would have to give it my best effort. While I have never read anything by Joseph Hayes, there was a certain poignancy to this novel that I could not resist. In the early part of the story, Hayes depicts some of the stories that many Americans have likely heard about the porous nature of the US-Mexico border, though there is a great deal of danger, not a ‘welcome to America, come on in’ as certain blowhards would have us believe. While illegal immigration does occur, using steel and adding more bullets to guns will do little to solve the larger issue of illegal immigration, save for a silly stop-gap measure that ignores the root causes and only costs the taxpayer billions after being lied to throughout a political campaign. Hayes focuses his attention on the issue and uses some key characters to depict this story, through both a struggle and success. Bobby Rivera is the American-born first generation character, whose parents arrived legally and who sought a better life for their son. He has the brains to succeed and, given the chance, makes the most of his opportunities. A great contrast occurs between his youth and adulthood, where Rivera is standing on the sidelines and watching change occur. His backstory and character development are well documented throughout Hayes’ narrative, though he seems to be the unexpected spectator, with brains and persuasive capabilities one might expect of a political figure. Miguel Sanchez/Sal Rios is the wonderful rags to riches character who was forgotten in his youth and cut his teeth on getting into trouble without being caught. He appears to have risen above and earned his law degree, only to effect change in a country that needs it more than ever. Hughes shows his maturity through the twenty year flash forward in the early part of the book, allowing the reader to see a man ready to take on the political elites to advocate for much-needed policy change, though it will not be easy. However, the secret that hangs over him could bring him down at any moment. The story was developed well, keeping the reader enthralled throughout. With a little talk of immigration policy and the thrill of an election campaign, the reader should expect something exciting. However, the political campaign becomes secondary as Hayes flirts with having the narrative reveal the deep secret Miguel Sanchez has been keeping. I had hoped for something highly political with a cut-throat campaign, but perhaps Hayes will do so in another of his novels. Strong characters and a decent plot keep Joseph Hayes showing that he is an author to watch, even if the story took a turn I did not expect to become primary.

Kudos, Mr. Hayes, for a great story that has strong themes that are quite relevant. I look forward to reading more of your work in the coming months.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons