John Dicke,
Proof Evident
(Synergy, 2006)

Gene Hardacre is the newly elected sheriff of Montgomery County, Ohio, and he is making one of his first post-election public appearances in front of the local Rotary Club in Dayton, where he'll be speaking to many prominent politicians, judges, businesspeople and other prominent social figures.

Avery Jackson was a judge, but lost his re-election bid after being seen as too soft in sentencing a convicted rapist. He was still well liked, fairly well respected and well known, and he found a job teaching law at a local university.

Jackson barely knew Hardacre, and vice-versa. There was no animosity between them. Jackson, a member of the Rotary Club, walked in on Hardacre's speech, pulled out a gun and killed him. When he was later interviewed by public defender Burt Porter, Avery had no recollection of killing the sheriff and confirmed he had no motive for doing so.

Porter, his colleague, Jack Maine, and new public defender Yolanda Crane begin investigating this initially inexplicable assassination. Before they are done, one of them will be dead, along with several other people, and Porter's girlfriend will be framed for one of the murders. The more the team digs, the bigger the story gets. The killing of Hardacre by Jackson had its origins three decades earlier and involved three different countries and many psychiatrists.

Did Jackson kill Hardacre? We know, right from the start, that he did. But it is the "why?" that makes this story. Will Avery be acquitted, found guilty or found not guilty by reason of insanity? As the public defenders dig to answer these questions, they encounter an intricate web of lies and secrecy, and they have to keep finding ways to use the legal system to penetrate the shadows and break through the barriers to the truth.

Author John Dicke has graduate degrees in law and psychology, and the story he has woven here is not only a very good legal mystery-drama, but also shows us how much he loves his two professions and how they interweave. Dicke has created a very intricate plot, and he is a very good storyteller, giving us a pace that neither drags nor rushes, and most of his characters are quite credible, especially the "good guys" and the victims.

Some of the "bad guys," though, are somewhat superficial and seem like caricatures. There is a corrupt lawyer, an overly ambitious district attorney and a drug dealer that are role models for those roles, to the point of losing character depth.

Some of Dicke's language goes a bit over-the-top. A prime example is when he describes two angry police officers, in an argument and coming close to blows, as "incipient gladiators."

I am left a bit unsure of how much to believe about some of the implications of this book. It is made quite clear that the story, the characters, and the events are fictitious. However, "the concepts are not" and there is the strong implication that events like these could very well happen because of the factors that caused the events in the story. I am dancing around certain statements, as I don't want to spoil too much of the mystery, but the book cover does talk about psychiatrists, working for the CIA, creating "killers without conscience." Research is mentioned that backs the reality of the concepts and procedures described.

One trivial oddity about this book: I have seen many hardcover books with glossy, colorful covers, and many hardcover books with very plain covers and a colorful dustjacket. This is the first book I've seen that is a glossy colorful hardcover that also has a colorful dustjacket.

Overall, I very much enjoyed reading Proof Evident for its intricate and well-told tale, but I'm left wondering just how realistic it is. I hope there is as much fiction in this book as possible, and I wouldn't want to find out it is more realistic than I want it to be. But, that is definitely a (scary) possibility to admit.

by Chris McCallister
5 August 2006

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