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