In Defense of Guilt
By Benjamin H. Berkley
Author Website: Benberkley(.)com
Representing a man accused of throwing his wife overboard, chic attorney Lauren Hill begins to artfully present her case. But when Judge Howell seems to morph into God, Lauren’s life of infidelity, poor parenthood, and self-absorption is questioned by the Almighty, who charges Lauren with committing the seven deadly sins. But is this real or fantasy? Is Lauren on the edge of a nervous breakdown, or is God presiding and ultimately deciding Lauren’s fate? In Defense of Guilt is a gripping story of self-discovery, justice, and ultimately about love. (Goodreads)
This fast-paced novel has a fascinating premise: what happens when a high-power defense attorney who feels she deserves the self-awarded “perks” of hard work is confronted by God and the seven deadly sins of Proverbs 6:16-19. This confrontation is not in private. Oh, no. Lauren Hill is in top form, having lost not one case in her career, and is in now court defending yet another alleged murderer when the judge suddenly changes in appearance and form into what looks like…God Himself. He calls her “my child” and talks about the book of Proverbs, the teachings of the fool versus wise, and the deadly sins, stopping at “lust”. And at the most unfortunate time, God reverts to being Judge Howell.
Lauren is frightened of going insane, and wonders if she is having a hallucination. Even having a recess does little to calm her. Returning to the trial and her very neurotic client, she tries to focus on the matter at hand. Her client, Martin Maze, is accused of murder, pushing his wife off the cruise ship they were on. Her body has never been found, but that doesn’t seem to bother the prosecutor who pulls out all the stops to try to convict the high-strung, needy, and unpredictable defendant. Maze wants to be called to the witness stand, but he is too volatile for Lauren to trust on the stand. When God returns to the bench, Lauren grabs the swearing-in Bible and runs out of the courtroom.
As the trial progresses and the judge keeps a close eye on her, Lauren struggles to regain control of her life. Having been in an affair with the DA, Dillon Bradley, she tries to meet him – and the moment is lost when she wants to look up the verses from Proverbs in the Gideon Bible in the hotel room and tells Dillon of the secrets of her growing-up years. When her husband calls and asks her to pick up their daughter from school, she is confronted by a belligerent 14-year-old who just wants her mother to be like other moms, have time for her, and care about her. The worst part? Constance accuses her of going on her father, the househusband who has been writing books for years but is yet unpublished.
As Lauren ponders what to do with these “visions” of God, He appears to her more and more. And more, in the faces of a few, then several, then all twelve of the jurors she tries to give closing arguments to. What happens next is beyond what she could have imagined – with her client, God, her family, even the outcome of the trial. In any event, the characters are flawed humans who are faced with the guilt of what each has done, and must answer how to go forward, knowing what they know about themselves now.
Lauren is very well defined, others as well as necessary for their secondary roles. I appreciate the focus being more on a limited number of characters as the primary relationship is that between Lauren, a proclaimed self-made woman, and God, who calls her “my child” and is calling on her to change some of her self-made behaviors. Other characters are shown as if in Lauren’s orbit, such as her husband and daughter, the associate attorney from the office, the man she is in an affair with, and her client.
This novel includes an array of elements that give the reader pause for thought. After all, how many of those defendants with high-dollar attorneys are guilty of the crimes? How many seemingly hardened folks actually are convicted by a higher court, the God they have denied, or start acting out from the torment of their guilt? In many ways the novel is well-written but leads this reader to question the author’s seemingly cavalier use of bad language and sex even as God shows up to remind Lauren of the deadly sins. The story is totally unpredictable, culminating with unforeseen drama. The author leads the reader to examine justice, forgiveness, and love. The ending satisfactory, with all loose ends tied up. While part of the outcome was satisfactory, there is another I didn’t like as well. I recommend this novel to anyone who appreciates tense courtroom scenes and how love might coexist with justice.
*OBS would like to thank the publisher for supplying a free copy of this title in exchange for an honest review*