“The Conviction” by Robert Dugoni
Top Seattle attorney, David Sloane, may be at home in the courtroom and able to outsmart his opponents, but he is out of his element when dealing with his troubled stepson.
Sloane’s wife has died and he has relinquished custody of his stepson to Jake’s biological father who lives in California, a move that has confused and angered Jake. “The Conviction” opens with Jake’s future at stake after he has been arrested for public intoxication (for the second time) and property damage. The judge decides to give him one last chance to straighten himself out in rehab or else go to jail. She assigns responsibility for Jake’s attendance to Sloane and they head back to Seattle.
Rather than re-bonding with his stepfather, Jake remains sullen and resentful. He’s back in the house where he witnessed his mother being murdered and can’t get past his grief and rage. When Jake and David are invited to go on a camping trip with an old friend and detective, Tom Molia, and his son, T.J., it looks as if a week in the woods might be a great way to reconnect with this young stranger that David no longer understands.
But instead, Jake tries to buy beer and cigarettes with fake ID on the first day of the trip, and drags T.J. along with him. The storeowner confiscates the ID, but the boys return later and break in, taking liquor and a rifle along with the recovered ID. Of course, they get caught by the police soon after, but not before they get drunk and shoot up the woods close to town. Sounds like a mess, with T.J. a reluctant participant, driven by his need to be accepted.
The boys are tried, convicted and sentenced to time in a local juvenile detention center (Fresh Start) before their fathers even know they’re missing from their room. That’s only the beginning of the nightmare that ensues.
The fathers attempt to get Jake and T.J. retried and released, or at least moved to a facility closer to home, but are stymied by the cops and judge in this small California town that seem to skirt constitutional rights. Sloane and Molia suspect corruption, but with what motive, what payoff?
Dugoni delivers an alarming story of a juvenile legal system gone horribly wrong, with teenaged inmates working as virtual slaves in boot camps, rather than receiving the rehab and guidance advertised in the fancy brochures. He takes a look at teens who make poor choices despite the help available, and the serious consequences awaiting them. Dugoni never implies that Jake and T.J. should not be punished for their actions, merely that they be counseled on their rights and then sentenced appropriately.
At Fresh Start, Jake grows up quickly when he discovers that something more is going on at the camp beyond their re-education, and that knowledge could get him and T.J. killed before David can get them out. The parallel plotline of the fathers trying to free the boys, while working against the clock and being threatened themselves, is gripping.
“The Conviction” moves from legal suspense to thriller mode in this pulse-pounding, page-turning, sleep-robbing tale. I had several ‘gasp’ moments as Dugoni built tension and advanced the dramatic story.
There are no false notes. Jake’s ability to deal with whatever is thrown at him physically, is set up early on and the action involving the supporting characters is completely believable, given their backgrounds. Those supporting characters, whether adults who oppose (or side with) Sloane and Molia, or teens who battle (or help) Jake and T.J., are so clearly drawn that I kept casting them in a movie in my mind’s eye.
This is the fifth book in the David Sloane series and in my opinion, the best so far.