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Wednesday 5 October 2016

‘The Absence of Guilt’ by Mark Gimenez

Published by Sphere,
4 August 2016.
ISBN: 978-0-7515-6729-8 (HB)

In his earlier legal thrillers Mark Gimenez has already taken on major contentious issues like corruption in politics, fracking and the darker side of the American legal system. His latest target is the biggest yet. The theme is international large-scale terrorism – and he gives no quarter to either side.

The Absence of Guilt features A Scott Fenney, protagonist of two earlier books, once a high-powered property lawyer earning seven figures, now a federal judge making barely six. In A Scott’s own words, he gave up doing well in favour of doing good,

How that happened is a subject for the earlier books. (The A, by the way, stands for Atticus, as in Atticus Finch, hero of To Kill a Mockingbird. That should give you a hint.) This time around Scotty, as his friends call him, is playing for much bigger stakes. A gang of suspected ISIS terrorists, led by a radical imam, has been rounded up after the FBI uncovered a plot to blow up the stadium where the Super Bowl was being played, massacring a hundred thousand American football fans. Scott’s job is to decide whether enough evidence exists to keep them in custody until after the game, thus ensuring the plot won’t be carried out.

The only problem is there is no evidence. And by hook or by crook, they are American citizens. And the American constitution is quite clear on the matter: without evidence, American citizens walk.

Never has the nitty-gritty of the American constitution resulted in such edge-of-the-seat tension. Mark Gimenez is a lawyer as well as a writer, and a master of both crafts: balancing his arguments as much as creating a great story which turns up the heat under the developing situation. There are even moments in the narrative when it’s the radicals’ side of the question that seems to be making most sense; not their methods, which are barbaric by any standards save their own, but their rationale for believing and behaving as they do.

Scott is all too well aware that a judge’s lot is to be unable to please all the people all the time; someone is always going to be upset with him. What’s more, sticking to his principles isn’t easy when there’s pressure from multiple directions to be a good American even if that means being a bad judge; and when the terrorist threat comes far too close to home, the potential consequences almost send principles of all kinds to the four winds.

It’s no spoiler to say (this is fiction, after all, though scarily real in the present climate) that with the help of his legal team, a sensible FBI agent and his family (his two daughters are among many superbly drawn, slightly-larger-than-life characters who include a fictional US president) Scott eventually battles through, though not without treading perilously close to the line more than once. The novel is a richly readable mix of thought-provoking argument, high-tension action, clever misdirection and detailed domestic and legal background: in other words, another Mark Gimenez winner.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Mark Gimenez  grew up in Galveston County, Texas. He attended Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas, and earned a B.A. in Political Science with honors. He then attended Notre Dame Law School in Indiana and earned a J.D. degree magna cum laude. He practiced law with a large Dallas law firm and became a partner. After ten years, he left to practice solo and to write. Mark lives in texas.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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