Pastor Ron Hamilton’s been acting strange for weeks, snapping at his wife Dallas and sleeping in the den. But when the police come banging on the door at 4am, Dallas' fear that something is terribly wrong is confirmed. Just 60 pages into James Scott Bell’s Presumed Guilty, we’re well into the unraveling of life as it was for the couple. After Ron’s arrest, things continue to fall apart.
Setbacks and new information about the case cause Dallas to question if she ever really knew the man she married. Her high-maintenance war-damaged son, 24-year-old Jared, returns home, bringing with him a whole set of other issues. And finally, a ghost from her past appears in the menacing flesh, sending this reader’s suspensometer into the nail-biting range.
The plot is devious and intricate. (I guess we shouldn’t be surprised since Bell has written a book for writers on the subject, Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers From Start to Finish.) To untangle the mystery of whether Ron really did kill porn star Melinda Chance, Bell takes Dallas on a circuitous ride that includes a coffee shop meeting with a private investigator, into a back alley, then a seedy bar to do sleuth work of her own, on a drive with a city politician, and in and out of the courtroom (where as a lawyer, Bell doesn’t hesitate to attempt to bedazzle us with his knowledge of the milieu and the lingo, even though I sometimes wondered: why do I need to know that?).
By book’s end and despite having kept my eyes peeled all the way, I have to admit Bell’s plotting had worked its sleight of hand on me (occasional consumer that I am of crime novels and TV). The final revelations, though predictable as to which big causes and players won and lost, gave me a case of mental whiplash.