Reviewed in the United States on October 4, 2020
My Review Four Stars****
I had really enjoyed THE JURY MASTER, originally published in 2006, Dugoni's legal thriller that introduced the vulnerable, charismatic protagonist attorney named David Sloane. It was the first of Dugoni's legal thrillers I had read, and I was looking forward to following the exploits of Sloane in the subsequent four installments of the book series.
I finished Book 2 last night (WRONGFUL DEATH) and it was an engaging read for the most part. On a positive note, many of the likeable characters I had enjoyed in the inaugural novel (long suffering Tina who finally broke through David's "wall" in THE JURY MASTER and captured his heart), the immensely entertaining larger-than-like Charles Jenkins (and his sexy young lover the lethal Alex), and more.
Sloane and Tina are happily married in the beginning of this saga, raising their adopted son Jake, and watching the antics of their pet cat. All is well and Sloane has just worked his unique brand of magic on still another jury for a multi million dollar civil settlement for his aggrieved poor plaintiff. After the stunning verdict, the family has planned to leave for a planned, well deserved and highly anticipated vacation together. However, Sloane is confronted by a war widow as he is leaving the court house. The grieving spouse of a high school math teacher, a man who had joined the National Guard to augment the family's income, had tragically been killed on the foreign soil of Iraq. The determined mother of four, still grieving her loving husband, was seeking justice from the US Military. Obviously Sloane is persuaded to help the woman and put his family's happiness second. Otherwise of course there would have been no book.
I am a fan of legal thrillers and have read of number of different authors who focus their talents on this genre. In the case of WRONGFUL DEATH, it is not a gripping courtroom drama in any sense of the word, and more aptly should be deemed a "Conspiracy Thriller". To be fair, that is also true of Dugoni's top shelf novel THE JURY MASTER. I wrote in my review of it that It is a complex, tightly knit thriller, and that there was more action scenes within its book covers than Robert Ludlum's entire Bourne Trilogy. The chapters alternated among multiple protagonists and their respective precarious predicaments, and each chapter ended with a cliffhanger. I elaborated at the time that it was the literary equivalent of the TV reality show ("I AM PREY") where it alternates the stories among let's say Sue who has been attacked by a pack of crazed raccoons, let's say Bob who is in the jaws of an alligator, and Tom who is being hunted down in an enclosed gorilla enclosure. You are on the edge of your seat with what is happening with Sue and then abruptly the scene switches to Tom getting his hand bit off by a large ape. This technique might not have been so effective if it wasn't for the fact that Dugoni has an exceptional ability to make his good guys seem so real and alive to us, and when it comes to the villains he can make us feel the chill.
Dugoni approaches Book 2 in essentially the same way, and with approximately the same level of effectiveness. However, it is not in the same league as THE JURY MASTER. That said, I did find this Book 2 of the David Sloane series to be particularly educational. Sloane is a civil lawyer, but in this novel he steps into the very different arena of military law, which is shockingly different to say the least. The material on military law and "The Feres doctrine" was like a blow to the head followed by a concussion and icepick headaches. I will not attempt to regurgitate the detailed information provided by the author on this doctrine but it is a figurative Mt. Everest to climb for any Civil Attorney who would entertain the notion of bringing a civil suit against the government. A quote from the book may explain this point. Sloane is consulting a military attorney in the course of his investigating the case.
“When an inductee takes the oath of enlistment, he swears to protect the Constitution of the United States against all enemies both foreign and domestic.” "... at that very instant (he or she) also forfeited (his or her) right to sue the government, the military, and (his or her) superior officers for injuries incurred ‘incident to service,’ even if you could prove those superior officers acted negligently or deliberately to deprive you of your constitutional rights.”
If virtually anything or anyone harms, maims, or kills a member of the armed services which is "incident to service" (while they are not on furlough or leave) the disabled veteran (or surviving spouse) is rendered impotent to sue the government for damages. That would encompass any egregious scenario you could imagine, including such events as a brutal gang rape and beating of a female soldier while on base to horrors even more unimaginable.
It is not difficult to believe that there were many casualties after World War II. The government envisioned a veritable tsunami of claims, and thus in1950 the Supreme Court consolidated three cases of families suing the government and members of the military for the deaths of loved ones (one of these was the family of one Rudolph Feres). This was the origin of the "Incident To Service" provision of the Feres Doctrine. The rationale for the 1950 decision was that the courts felt that military benefits were the appropriate remedial action to be taken as opposed to civil lawsuits. I might add that the novel also addresses the Federal Tort Claims Act which prevents soldiers from recovering for injuries incurred serving during a war in a foreign country.
In light of the fact that as time passed and civil lawyers were being awarded outrageous amounts of money for their plaintiffs, the previous rationale of the courts that military benefits were the appropriate answer began to weaken and look pale in comparison. Obviously thousands of civil attorneys tried to break through the impenetrable wall of the Feres doctrine to no avail. I found it interesting that the author mentions a relatively more contemporary challenge to the "Feres doctrine" and the Supreme Court Split 5 To 4. The legendary Supreme Court giant Justice Scalia wrote that:
"Feres was wrongfully decided then and remained wrongfully decided.”
This book is interesting---if for no other reason---the fact that we have "The Jury Master" trying to find "a loop hole in the Feres Doctrine" to help his client achieve justice. In 1994's infamous McDonald's "hot coffee" civil court case in New Mexico the plaintiff was awarded $160,000 compensatory damages and $2.7 million dollars in punitive damages for the fast food giant's callous conduct. We know that the injured party did not ultimately receive that kind of cash, but nevertheless when I see tort cases like that I shudder. How can that happen in America? (when a beaten and gang-raped female soldier can seek no damages at all from the government or her attackers----and a soldier who returns home with permanent physical disabilities can do nothing when he wasn't afforded the most currently available protective gear that was in use at the time?
This book made me so thankful that we have a President who loves our military and has equipped it with the best protective gear that is available and has modernized our armed forces to include everything from their modes of transport to their state of the art weaponry. He has also successfully reformed the VA for our wounded warriors. In a different vein, what if a more conservative leaning justice of the Supreme Court had been standing next to Justice Scalia when this outrageous Feres doctrine was challenged? We may finally have a Supreme Court who will be open to seeing the unfairness of this doctrine advanced by the government some 70 years ago. That is if fortune smiles on us, our proud military, and our exceptional nation.
Before I leave the review of WRONGFUL DEATH I do want to say you don't have to be a die hard fan of "Pit Bull Parolees" to love Charles (and get "choked up") over his noble intervention on the behalf of a certain downtrodden canine at the conclusion of the book. There were also the poignant moments that were provided in the closing frames that were sweet and special. It is in fact a decent albeit hardly outstanding follow up to THE JURY MASTER.
An odd thing occurred on my way to posting a customer rating on Amazon for WRONGFUL DEATH. I found myself glancing at the reviews, something I don't ordinarily do, especially when I am about to compose a book review. That is because even though my reviews are written principally for just myself, I do not like to be influenced by the views of others. Book 3 is BODILY HARM and I hadn't purchased it yet....I could have tapped the wrong listing by mistake. Anyway, I started reading an angry review from a fan who was beating Dugoni up for (letting the pet cat get killed) and if that wasn't enough doing the unthinkable (something much, much, worse). I thought "Say what?" The cat wasn't killed! What is this irate reader ranting about? Then I looked more closely and saw that the review was of BODILY HARM, Book 3. Whoa!
What follows here (from me) is a mandate on Dugoni's Books 3 through 5 of the David Sloane series. I may not have mentioned that when I bought WRONGFUL DEATH I also purchased Books 4 and 5 in the 5-Book Sloane series. Since they are Kindle Editions I can't even use them to start a fire. The review that caught my eye was one that basically pounded the drum that Dugoni had gone too far, saying:
"But if you start reading a series, the characters become more than just names on a page--at least for me. And you, Dugoni, are the author who wrote them in such a way that I got to know and care about them."
This dovetails with a point I was making in the last review I wrote. Good authors (ones who have a heart and care about their fans) should never do more than "dangle the potential for disaster before (his/her) readers". Who didn't fall in love with the character of Tina who loved David from the shadows for 10 years before he reached the point of being capable of opening his heart? In Book 2 who wasn't biting their knuckles (or cuticles) when the villains were making Tina "tread water" and nearly drowning when her strength waned? And with Jake watching hysterically and impotent to help her. But then Alex "rode to the rescue". We loved the ending of the novel where Tina and Jake were recovering from those traumas, David was standing lovingly by, and so was their precious pet cat.
Dugoni!!! As one successful author wrote a long time ago, "...In the end, good is good and bad is bad, and good more or less prevails. Authors have a contract with their readers and I think too much of mine to have them invest their time, money, and emotion in a full-length-novel...(and I paraphrase here) to have them tearful, depressed, angry and livid at the ending. I am an animal lover, so I might have stopped reading the exploits of Sloane for killing the pet cat alone. I loved Greg Iles and I deliberately skipped the third novel THE DEVIL'S PUNCHBOWL in his spectacular PENN CAGE TRILOGY (THE QUIET GAME, TURNING ANGEL, THE DEVIL'S PUNCHBOWL). Why? Because the book depicted animal cruelty and focused prominently on the illegal sport of pit bull fighting rings.
Steve Martini wrote COMPELLING EVIDENCE as a standalone legal thriller and his protagonist attorney Paul Madriani was married. The book was a runaway success that made him famous. So he felt "compelled" to kill off Madriani's spouse. Truthfully, the reader didn't get to know her all that well in the inaugural book, so he got by with it. It is a completely different outcome when readers learn to love the characters in a book series. I will go a step further and extend that premise to standalone novels with lovable protagonists.
There are countless examples...books and TV. Karin Slaughter was one brave author to blow the manly man Chief Jeffery Tolliver to kingdom come in BEYOND REACH. Many of her most loyal fans figuratively crucified her for the betrayal of their trust that she would keep him safe from harm. Now me...I actually understand WHY she had to do it. But also I wouldn't have been surprised to read that her "Biggest Fan" would pull an Annie Wilkes on her like Kathy Bates portrayed in Misery. What about the cult phenomenon TWD? Remember what happened to the viewership AND the ratings after bad guy Neegan took "Lucille" to the noggins of fan favorite Glen and good guy Abraham??? I think (if I remember right) that the highest rated TV show in the land lost 25% of its viewership. Simply put, an author is simply ill advised to betray his fan base.
I used to smirk at the commitment of some of my older friends who were addicted to the daytime soap operas. That was before watching BEAUTY AND THE BEAST for the whole series to have the writers decide for (Linda Hamilton) to wind up tortured and murdered. I sobbed and couldn't sleep for weeks. Having said that it was years ago....(smile). Two writers I dumped for this kind of betrayal (writing grim, gut wrenching endings to beloved or incredibly sympathetic characters) was the late Scott Pratt and the aspiring author Will Patching (he also spewed liberal propaganda but it was his killing off two specific characters in the course of a 3-book trilogy that made me toss him forever into my "Goodbye" file. I am either going to "skip" Bodily Harm and finish the last two books, but more likely will stop reading David Sloane altogether. Maybe Dugoni to go as well. Too many books out there to read if you are not a masochist.