Author: Stephen Gore
Publisher: William Morrow 2015
Genre: Crime Fiction
Harlan Donnally is a former San Francisco homicide detective, now living in northern California in a small town near beautiful Mount Shasta. An old friend, Judge Ray McMullen has come to see him so he can fish — or so he says. Harlan knows the judge has something else going on in his head. It takes two days, but finally it pours out.
Judge McMullen is disturbed by a murder case that occurred twenty years ago. The convicted man, Israel Dominguez, was sentenced to death because, allegedly, during a gun fight between rival gang members, he shot and killed one of the gang leaders.
What’s really bothering Judge McMullen is that he doesn’t think he did the right thing. He feels he didn’t do anything except agree with the jury’s findings of guilt and sentencing recommendation of death. He remembers wishing he could advice the defense attorney on how to give his client a better defense. The judge is conflicted, but he’s pretty sure that, if Dominez really committed the crime, it was not equal to first degree murder.
The judge asks Donnelly to look into the case. Donnelly is still a first-rate detective and the judge knows he can trust Donnelly’s help. As Donnelly digs in, there are two things I notice: first, Donnelly is a really good in-depth investigator and second, the author must be a really good in-depth investigator. As I learned, Steven Core is a real-life investigator! It shows — big time — in this seriously good crime novel.
In addition to following a good investigation, I liked looking at the whole justice system through the example of this case. From the police investigation, to the prosecutor’s office, to the defense attorney, to the court, this case does not seem to have been handled competently or ethically. There was a strong bias against the defendant because he was a gang member. Although I know most gang members aren’t super-clean citizens, I’d like to think that at each point in the justice system, people would want to prove, without a doubt, that he did or did not do the deed. Does the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” still exist? In practice? Lots of issues here.
I found a very engaging letter from the author on Amazon’s page for this book. You can find it here: Night Is the Hunter. I’m sure it was meant to be read before the reader starts the novel, but I read it after. It offered me a little look into the mind of the author that was so enjoyable. Here’s a quote from the letter:
What I offer readers in exchange for their willingness to engage in this manner with the characters and their struggles are hard-won perspectives on the lives of those seeking justice, on the breadth of the law of murder, on prosecutorial ethics, on judicial obligations, on the practice of capital punishment and the psychological burdens borne by who participate in it.
My final analysis: Night is the Hunter is a great story, tight plot, very good characters and an excellent look at issues. I want my book club to read this. In the meantime I’m going to read the other Harlan Donnelly books in the series.
I want to thank the publisher for my copy of the book. Thanks also to TLC Book Tours for allowing me to be a part of it all. To see other stops on the book tour, visit the schedule here: TLC Book Tours