Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Absence of Guilt, by Mark Gimenez

It's a good day when I get an e-mail from Mark Gimenez announcing a new novel!  I look forward to each new legal thriller from this Texas writer, and he has yet to disappoint.  The Absence of Guilt is as fresh as the latest CNN news crawl and as suspenseful as a season of 24.  Fans of Gimenez's earlier novels will welcome the return of A. Scott Fenney, now a Federal judge.  We catch up with his daughters, some of his admirers (and detractors) in Highland Park, and his legal team.  We also learn the fate of his ex-wife in a cameo appearance.

More important than the reunion is the story of a terrorist threat to destroy the Dallas Cowboys's stadium during the Superbowl.  (This is how you know The Absence of Guilt is pure fantasy: Gimenez has Tony Romo leading the Cowboys to a Superbowl appearance!)  A bunch of local Muslims are rounded up and appear in Fenney's court.  The trouble is, the government can't present a single piece of evidence tying the Muslims to a plot.  Fenney has to rule on whether they can be held in custody, at least until after the Superbowl.

Gimenez's readers won't be surprised that he doesn't take a hard-line stance on the issues at hand. The Muslims don't elicit a lot of sympathy, but by presenting the extreme anti-Muslim point of view from some characters ("Islam is no longer a peaceful religion." "All Muslims are terrorists in waiting."), Gimenez gives Fenney the chance to take a more moderate view. Fenney even learns that a trusted member of his staff is Muslim.

On another issue, Fenney is called on to rule in an immigration decision. Should immigrants be granted amnesty?  On both cases, Fenney has to balance his own opinion and emotional responses with political considerations and constitutional questions.  Gimenez includes several lengthy passages of arguments and Fenney's decisions that make for thoughtful, informative reading, but he never lets these passages get in the way of the story.

Gimenez has a gift for tying together real-world, present-day issues with engaging stories in such a way that the reader has to think about multiple aspects of the issues.  What seems to be black and white in many contexts ends up being not so clear in his novels.  One thing is for sure: we can count on Fenney to make the right call.  If Fenney keeps up the good work, he will land a spot on the Supreme Court.

(One other note that lets you know The Absence of Guilt is pure fantasy: Gimenez has Obama apologizing for releasing terrorists from Gitmo and taking the blame for the former prisoners going back to their ways as terrorist leaders.  I just can't see Obama saying, "That was my bad."  Gimenez apparently thinks more highly of Obama than I do! I think real-life Obama would more likely apologize to the Muslims for their imprisonment.)

Gimenez's readers will be delighted with The Absence of Guilt.  It's one of his best.  Fans of a good suspense novel with colorful, engaging characters and thoughtful, practical commentary on important current issues will similarly not be disappointed.  The only drawback is the wait for Gimenez's next book!

2016 Reading Challenge: A book by your favorite author

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