How could Christian parents allow their young son to die without seeking medical help? When does belief cross the lines into legalism?
In this fast-paced, well-executed story, Randy Singer pens the troubling tale of Thomas and Theresa Hammond, two radically conservative Christians who belong to a church where seeking medical attention is viewed as sinful, and sickness comes from a lack of faith. When their toddler son Joshie becomes critically ill, they delay seeking medical attention. Joshie dies, and unscrupulous deputy attorney Rebecca Crawford (a.k.a. "the Barracuda") seizes the incident as a way to garner media attention and boost her chances of career advancement. The devastated parents are charged with negligent homicide and their remaining two children are taken from them. Charles Arnold, a divorced African-American law professor and street preacher who has recently been victimized by racial profiling, reluctantly takes the white Hammond couple's case.
But there's more, of course, going on than meets the eye. The married doctor who failed to save Joshie has a checkered past and a suspicious relationship with Crawford. During a night spent unjustly in jail sparked by his street preaching, the endearing Arnold rubs shoulders with a criminal awaiting trial who could be a key player in the Hammond case. Singer salts surprise twists for the reader throughout almost every chapter.
Singer, a street preacher and trial lawyer, knows firsthand many of the things he writes about, and has the craftsman's ability to bring his knowledge alive on the page in a way that makes for believable, exciting fiction. As the story unfolds, Singer weaves in multiple sub-themes, including racial discrimination, greed and betrayal. In the end, it is one person's "dying declaration" --- the statement made before a person dies that is almost always true and admissible as evidence --- that tips the outcome.
One of Singer's strengths is his multifaceted characters. He paints Theresa and Thomas as flawed Christian characters who are in need of the knowledge of God's grace, and the reader, while appalled at the Hammonds' actions involving Joshie, finds the couple believable and worthy of sympathy. Arnold is engaging and conflicted, and his romance with special advocate Nikki Moreno and his concern for her lack of faith are penned with a deft touch. The portrayal of the Hammonds' middle child, "Tiger," provides some memorable moments as he struggles to understand what has happened to his parents and his little brother. The only disappointment in characterization is with Crawford, who readers will love to hate and who rather unbelievably fails to show some endearing trait or glimmer of decency.
Although he never crosses the line into sentimentality, Singer also knows how to pluck at the heartstrings, and poignant moments throughout the story are sure to evoke a tear or two. The point of view changes are handled with aplomb. Strong pacing keeps the pages turning, as does the hooks at the end of each chapter that make it difficult to put the book down.
Singer, a 2003 Christy Award winner for suspense, gets better with each subsequent novel, and he excels in DYING DECLARATION. Fans of Singer's earlier novels, IRREPARABLE HARM and DIRECTED VERDICT will recognize some of the characters that make appearances in DYING DECLARATION, although it reads beautifully as a stand-alone novel.
--- Reviewed by Cindy Crosby (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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