The 7th Canon, by Robert Dugoni
Robert Dugoni is a decent writer. I read My Sister’s Grave a year or so ago and generally enjoyed it. In the acknowledgements on this book Dugoni says this book was written 20 years ago and sat in a file cabinet somewhere until he dusted it off for publication. I can’t say the world would be a worse place if it had stayed there.
Dugoni writes good action, and this contains that touch. But there are premises that are hard to swallow, some hinky transitions, a collection of meh characters, and a few other hitches.
We can start with the basic premise. A Catholic priest who operates a shelter for teens in San Francisco’s Tenderloin is found holding the bloody corpse of a murdered shelter resident. A rough and sexist/racist detective is one of the first on the scene. He breaks into the priest’s office without a warrant and finds a bloody letter opener. A politically ambitious DA picks up the case and starts pushing for the death penalty. I have a problem right here. We’re talking more-Catholic-than-average San Francisco here, and nationally there hasn’t been a priest put on death row or executed since 1916 (a German-American priest and probable serial killer who chopped up a woman he impregnated.) I find it hard to believe that a DA would find it would boost his political standing to be the guy who sent a priest to the executioner.
The priest’s case is taken by Peter Donley mostly by default. He’s been working in his uncle’s law firm and the uncle was set to represent the priest but suffered a stroke before getting the chance to meet the priest. Donley goes to interview the priest, who is sitting in a cell reciting the rosary on his fingers. Because of issues from an abusive father and a mother who often recited the rosary Donley freaks out in a PTSD moment and flees, never meeting the priest until the first hearing. There, because the priest is determined to plead not guilty, Donley (who has no experience in capital crimes) is compelled to represent the priest.
This is just to outline some of the weaker parts of the book, but as they’re fundamental to the plot the action sequences that follow end up feeling more irritating than exciting. This is especially true near the end when a former-cop-turned-detective begins getting introduced, normally in ways that interrupt the flow of the best scenes of the book. Plus at one point this detective, who was relieved of duties, is allowed to lead a squadron of SFPD officers as a civilian on the raid of a building.
The book is further marred by less-than-realistic motives by the DA and the racist/sexist cop who turns out to have daddy issues.
Again, in 20 years Dugoni has become a better writer. This book deserved a much better tweaking and edit to smooth out some of the weaknesses and perhaps a rewrite to bring it into the current decade.