Reviewed by C.J. Darlington
No Legal Grounds by James Scott
"James Scott Bell is an expert wordsmith, artfully placing us in the scene. We're not just observing his characters, we're involved with them."
Lawyer Sam Trask’s life is finally in order. His old drinking and success-at-any-cost ways have been replaced with embracing his family and his faith. Then Nicky Oberlin, an old college classmate, shows up. His first contact with Sam is an innocent enough e-mail. No big deal. Sam deletes the message. After all, he barely remembers the guy, and distractions in his already hectic schedule are not on the agenda. But there’s something about the tone of the message that makes Sam uneasy.
And rightfully so. Nicky Oberlin doesn’t take “no” for an answer, and soon his behavior escalates into harassment. Sam has sworn to uphold the law and defend the innocent as an attorney. But can the law protect him and his family from someone like Nicky Oberlin? Not when no law has been broken. Which is why Sam is forced to do something he never dreamed he’d do---take the law into his own hands.
Sociopathology isn’t a subject often tackled in Christian fiction. But it’s a subject that has long fascinated Bell. On crafting the plot of No Legal Grounds, he says, “I began to ask myself how a good Christian family man, a respected lawyer, might react if a sociopath decides, for reasons unknown, to come after him and his family. And what if the legal system, because the sociopath is so clever, is unable to help? And if the Christian man has a vulnerable teen-age daughter who becomes the subject of the evil, what then? What would this father do?”
It’s this serious subject matter that gives No Legal Grounds a somewhat darker feel than some of Bell’s previous works. It resembles Presumed Guilty closest in tone, since both deal with tough subject matters. But No Legal Grounds hits closer to home. We all have people in our pasts who could hold a grudge against us like Nicky does against Sam. Any one of us could be in Sam’s shoes.
James Scott Bell is an expert wordsmith, artfully placing us in the scene. We’re not just observing his characters, we’re involved with them. We rejoice in their triumphs, wince at their pain, and root for them to win. No more so than with Heather Trask, Sam’s seventeen-year-old daughter. A struggling musician who butts heads with her father’s ideals, her scenes are particularly well done as we follow her down a path we know will only lead to trouble. And Bell manages to pepper in just enough slang and mannerisms of today’s teens to believably portray Heather and her crowd without sounding like he’s trying too hard. Some of the court scenes and legal aspects of No Legal Grounds struggle to flow with the story, but this is only a minor distraction amidst the suspenseful plot.
Ultimately, even though the dark might be darker, the light of truth still shines, a much-loved quality always found in a Bell novel. No Legal Grounds isn’t a sugar coated, feel-good piece. That’s not what it’s meant to be. It’s an honest look at one man’s struggle to protect his family and overcome society’s evils. Through Sam’s journey we come to understand how we can overcome all evil---through the light of the Truth.
C.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.