Peter Donley, a San Francisco lawyer, is the main protagonist of “The 7th Canon” by the best-selling author, Robert Dugoni. He worked for a law firm run by his uncle, Lou Giantelli in the Tenderloin District. A heart attack sends Giantelli to a hospital bed and Donley is swamped with more cases than he had bargained for. This story begins with the arrest of Father Thomas Martin whom once the San Francisco Examiner had called, “The Priest of Polk Street.” Father Tom was the antithesis of your conventional priest. He wore blue jeans with holes in the knees, had a shaved head, tattoos and a diamond-stud ear-ring. He now ran a shelter for boys which was approved by the Church. One stormy night, as he is shutting the shelter Father Tom finds the body of Andrew Bennett, a boy who had signed in the shelter and seemed to have checked out. He has been viciously stabbed to death. Father Tom who was the first to see the body is soon arrested as his killer by Detective Dixon Connor. Lou Giantelli represents the Church in most of their cases, but as he is unwell Father Tom’s case passes on to Peter Donley. At their first meeting itself, Donley is convinced that Father Tom is innocent and has been framed with the murder of the young Bennett. Later, as Donley sinks his teeth into the case he discovers that Bennett might have been the third youth to be killed over the last few months. Donley believes that there was a serial killer involved. That was definitely not Father Tom who happened to be the first person to find Bennett’s body. Bennett in all likelihood was a young white male teenage prostitute.
Apart from Father Tom, and Peter Donley the other characters that play a major part in the story are Gil Ramsey, San Francisco’s District Attorney, whose father Augustus had been a two-term Governor; Lt Aileen O’Malley of the Police Dept; and Linda St. Claire, Ramsey’s Chief Prosecutor.
The author, Dugoni, skilfully builds up how the past continues to haunt Donley who had been through a bruising childhood because of his abusive, almost always drunk father. It is obvious that Dugoni has extensively researched the milieu of that part of California which are so vividly described, including the seedy life in the back alleys of San Fransisco.
Will the prosecution have a strong enough case to convict Father Tom, who by the way, at an early age had got into trouble with the law himself? Or will Donley be able to prove that his client was innocent of Bennett’s murder? This is the kind of book where the lips of the reviewer must remain sealed.
The story moves at a rapid pace and the reader is kept hooked by both the language of the story and the situations that emerge, sometimes surprising the reader by their unexpectedness.
Dugoni has twice been nominated for the Harper Lee Award for Legal Fiction, was a 2015 International Thriller Writer’s finalist for thriller of the year, and the 2015 winner of the Nancy Pearl Award for Fiction. His books are sold world-wide in more than 20 countries and have been translated into a dozen languages including French, German, Italian and Spanish