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Criminal Injustice

Aberdeen Bay Press | April 2012 | ISBN-13: 978-1-60830-078-5
Trade Paperback | Retail $16.95

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The Upside to Murder
Marshall Frank
Aberdeen Bay| April 2012
ISBN-13: 978-1-60830-078-5
264 pages

“Is there an upside to murder?” Marshall Frank implicitly inquires in the suspense novel that bears the name (and words) of that question. Of course the answer to that query depends upon a person’s perspective. Or, in the words of Leonard Cohen’s ironic narrator: “Whatever makes a soldier sad will make a killer smile." Which is to say, in a world where the order of “right and wrong” is often subverted or suspended by those operating with a completely different (and often diabolical) morality in mind, this question becomes somewhat problematic. In the novel The Upside To Murder we are thrust into just such a world: one where we wonder about the nature of justice and murder, as we ask ourselves, in the terms of a biblical phrase, is there a time to kill?

Doctor Orville Madison has been struck with an abysmal strain of Déjà vu. As a young man Orville’s sister Paula was raped by a group of men. Instead of receiving justice, the individuals who committed this heinous crime were acquitted, while his sister was charged with Assault With Intent to Commit Murder for using a firearm to defend herself. Accused of being a perjurer and a “common slut,” Paula was subjected to a humiliating courtroom experience. After the horrific trial, wherein she suffered public disgrace, this young lady (with every reason to live) took her own life. Now, as an older man, Orville finds himself in nearly an identical nightmare: as his sixteen year old daughter, Cassandra Madison, an honor student and a devout Catholic, has been raped by a couple of thugs; and he is being asked to trust the same legal system that helped destroy his sister’s life. However, Orville is not prepared to let the re-emergence of this traumatic set of circumstances ruin his family for a second time.

Realizing the “system that purports to seek justice” may be “more damaging to the victim than the crime itself,” Orville wonders, “Where’s the priority?” Faced with a cruel Catch-22 scenario—where he is forced to take the law into his own hands, or else allow his daughter to endure a traumatic cross examination from immoral defense attorneys and the sensationalistic media—this respected Miami physician and pillar of society has been placed in a no win situation.  “What’s more important?” Orville asks himself, torn between his life-long commitment to Catholicism, which considers murder a mortal sin, and his daughter’s mental health and spiritual well-being. Will this moral man who has spent his entire career saving lives violate his spiritual values, and his own conscience, by taking the life of his daughter’s rapists?

The delicate dichotomy between Orville’s religious life (including his reputation as a community leader and a righteous man) and the difficult decisions he must make to preserve his daughter’s sanity and selfhood is the centerpiece of the novel. Yet adding to this profound story of personal anguish and moral uncertainty, the author introduces several ancillary storylines that lend texture to Orville’s quest for justice and his internal debate. In particular, the insightful point of view of veteran detective Ray Blocker provides the reader with a rare perspective into the strange case of Doctor Orville Madison. Drawing on his own extensive experience as a detective, Marshall Frank (through the character Ray Blocker) gives us a window into the nature of criminal investigations and the intricacies of police work.

Mr. Frank is extremely gifted at grasping dramatically divergent and contradictory worldviews; setting them side by side (even enmeshing them) in a seamless fashion. Each character’s unique set of circumstances highlight, and bring out hidden aspects of, Orville Madison’s spiritual ordeal and the ongoing murder case. For example, in the midst of the main story, and the subplot consisting of Ray Blocker’s handling of this criminal investigation (and his own impending retirement), we get an unexpected glimpse of a man that society might otherwise label a ‘worthless thug.’ Marvin Patterson, one of the men suspected of raping Cassandra, enters the novel as the typical ‘low-life’—the sort of predator every moral person loathes and loves to hate. Yet this so-called ‘hardened criminal’ is not a stereotypical ‘bad guy.’ On the contrary, in the course of the story we see that the accused man (like Orville himself) possesses the ability to love and be loved; and after finding genuine friendship for the first time in his life, Patterson exhibits empathy, moral aptitude, and a romantic nature.

Rather than create wooden or one-dimensional literary figures, Frank presents us with believable flesh-and-blood characters that step right off the street of real life and into the story. Delving into the personal histories and hearts of these complex characters, he breaks down our expectations and makes it impossible to know how the story is going to end. It is a thriller that could only be written by a man with an intimate knowledge of detective work; who also happens to be a master of the English language. Demonstrating the author’s attention to detail, each carefully crafted scene—and for that matter, every phrase, paragraph, and page—adds to our understanding of the unfolding drama; as we become more invested in the characters, and increasingly curious regarding the outcome of the story, with each succeeding sentence.

Unlike conventional murder mysteries or crime stories, such as the ones seen on television (and in most popular fiction), The Upside To Murder is at once realistic and morally engaging. After the manner of classic literature, this novel brings to life the characters and circumstances of the literal story and also vital questions pertaining to justice, love, and religious belief. In reading the novel we are put in the mindset of the protagonist Orville Madison: with him we wonder whether there is a higher morality outside the limited legal system that governs the ethics of American society—as we ask ourselves, “What would we do if placed in his shoes?” and, “Is there an upside to murder?”


Christopher Ackerman
For Independent Professional Book Reviewers


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