“We all have to decide for ourselves how much sin we can live with.”
This now infamous line isn’t taken from When No One Is Watching, by Joseph Hayes. However, having just watched the episode of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire in which the character Nucky Thompson utters the line, it resonated in me as I read Mr. Hayes first novel. Joseph Hayes will be featured in an upcoming “Meet and Greet” at Barnes & Noble, and in researching the details for our Event Calendar, I was afforded the opportunity to receive his book from Phenix & Phenix, the literary publicists handling the media campaign for the novel.
In When No One Is Watching, we are initially introduced to the two main characters through the rosy lens of celebration, as they have just been awarded a monumental legal victory. Danny Moran and Blair Van Howe have known each other since their early law school years, and have backed each other up in everything since. Both men possess a unique talent in the field; Blair has a penchant for words coupled with an easy charm, handy for working the judge and jury. Danny is resourceful and smart, careful in his research and committed, nearly to a fault. Riding high on the landmark courtroom victory and on the eve of Blair’s announcement to run for Congress, Danny imbibes a few too many, forcing Blair to take the wheel and drive his incapacitated friend home. It should have been a simple thing, the best friends live just two blocks apart in an affluent neighborhood on the South side of Chicago. But Blair isn’t exactly sober himself; he loses control of Danny’s porsche, forcing another driver off the road and into a tree. Panicked but physically unharmed, he transfers Danny’s still-unconscious body to the driver’s seat, dials 9-1-1 from Danny’s mobile and then walks away. To anyone else – to Danny himself, it appears as though the extremely inebriated Danny was at fault. As for Blair, initially unsure of how to move forward, he turns to his father-in-law Sam, a man with all the right contacts and years of political savvy, letting he and his daughter, Blair’s wife Kimberly, take the reins.
What follows is the divergence of the lives of Danny and Blair. Danny, wracked by the (presumed) guilt of having caused such a horrific accident, confesses to a transgression he can’t actually recall; a decision that would ultimately lose him his career, his wife, his license to practice law and land him in jail for a commuted sentence. Upon release, he first plunges headlong into alcoholism trying to numb the pain before clawing his way back to a new life. A new definition of normalcy in which, with the assistance of AA, he learns to apply his life lessons to others in assisting them. Blair, his hands seemingly clean of the incident, rockets to political stardom by first being elected to Congress, then Governor of Illinois, laying the groundwork for what begins to look like a cakewalk into the White House; an unblemished political career built on a solid foundation of integrity and honesty.
As the years speed by, it becomes increasingly clear the past cannot stay in the past. A pertinacious detective, involved in the accident investigation until he was suddenly granted an early retirement, has kept an ace in his sleeve all these years; and as the presidential campaign gains speed, he finds himself unable to ignore the nagging feeling something wasn’t right. His decision to right old wrongs touches off a series of events wrought with tension and action of the caliber I’m used to seeing in novels by John Grisham and Michael Connelly. Was the detective successful? To answer that is to spoil the ending, a conclusion that was at once foregone yet prodigious. But ask yourself this; if “the greater good” is rooted in bad, can it really ever be right? Or, as Joseph Hayes asks, is “the greater good” just a lie we tell ourselves to justify the sins we commit when no one is watching? We all all have to decide for ourselves how much sin we can live with.
I truly enjoyed the novel; the story dealt with many themes including ambition, betrayal, corruption, overcoming dependency and taking personal responsibility. The story is part thriller and part cautionary tale dealing with various moral and ethical issues, a tale of ‘what goes around comes around.’ Though at times the narrative became somewhat lost in the message, I found myself not wanting to put it down. The characters and their actions are contemporary enough that one could easily draw comparisons to current political figures. As a fan of legal and political thrillers, I’m looking forward to Mr. Hayes next novel, Consequential Damages, due next year. I recommend readers of the same genres pick up a copy of When No One Is Watching; you won’t be disappointed.
When No One Is Watching, Joseph Hayes. Publication Date: October 2010, published by Synergy Books, Austin, Texas. Format: paperback, 320 pages. List Price $14.95, ISBN-13: 9780984387946, ISBN: 0984387943. Available at Barnes & Noble. Joseph Hayes will be at The Woodlands Mall Barnes & Noble on Saturday, January 15 at 2:00 PM.
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