Legal thrillers are a dime a dozen these days. For every Grisham, there are three to four other others turning out formula legal thrillers in an attempt to cash in on the popular trend in publishing. Which is what makes the works of Robert Whitlow such a marvelous find--they are legal thrillers, but they're well told, entertaining, page turning stories, the likes of which I haven't read in the legal genre since the earliest works of John Grisham.
Robert Whitlow is an amazingly talented author and that keeps showing through again and again in his work.
"The Sacrfice" is no exception to this rule.
What could have been little more than an exploration of a possibly racial motivated incident in a Southern small town (ala "A Time To Kill") instead turns out to be much more. "The Sacrifice" is an intimate examination of the events and circumstances that shaped the character of the protoganist, Scott Ellis. Ellis has returned to his native town to begin practicing law and gets his first big case--defending a young man who is accused of shooting into a baptism service at a local African-American church. The case isn't helped by the fact that the young man is a bigot, whose outward appareance and internal attitude reflect this. As he takes on the case, Scott also accepts a position to work with the local high school's mock trial team and is unexpectedly reunited with his high school sweetheart, Kay. Kay is going through a divorce and the relationship didn't end on a good note between them--Scott just let the relationship wither away.
As the novel progresses, you slowly begin to realize that this is a character study of Scott. He's never really allowed himself to be close to anyone for fear of causing or recieving pain. He can't be open with others or himself and he really only has an abiding friendship with his constant dog companion, Nicki. Slowly over the course of the novel, Scott's pattern becomes more and more apparent--as do the reasons behind it, which I won't give away here as it may ruin some of the enjoyment of the novel. We see Scott struggle--not only with his renewed feelings for Kay, who is going through a divorce, but also with his feelings about his friends, his client, his life in general and his relationship with God. One particularily powerful scene comes when Scott attends the church where the shootings occurred to possibly get information on the case and is almost confronted by the minister about his personal walk.
What surprised me most about this book was how quickly the pages turned. Whitlow's work has proven to be rivetting and compelling in the past, but "The Sacrifice" went above and beyond that. We come to care about Scott and what's going on in his life and I couldn't turn the pages fast enough at times. This is truely one of those novels that goes by far too quickly and the only regret you have when you've finished is that there isn't more of this great story to keep reading.
In addition to our journey with Scott, we also get an examination of evil and how it is at work in our world, sometimes hiding in plain sight. Whitlow builds the suspense of this storyline well in the story of Scott's journey and it leads to a truly compelling and page-turning conclusion. It is also extremely powerful to read, especially in the light of what we learn about Scott over the course of this novel.
"The Sacrifice" is a rich, compelling novel. It is Whitlow's third book and the third book of his that I've read. In fact, while I have one more of Whitlow's novels left to read, I think this one might be my favorite. Whitlow has crafted a novel that is next to perfect and I heartily recommend it.