Are some crimes more heinous than others, virtually unforgivable? It is up to the reader to weigh the facts and determine the measure of guilt in A Thin Difference. When the novelist is also a lawyer, it is a safe bet that there will be unexpected plot twists. As an attorney, he has witnessed many aspects of aberrant human behavior, all variations of crime; the writer, his alter ego, contributes creativity and imaginative plot. Yet as creatures burdened with conscience, we all tally a personal score, charting our successes and failures, particularly in relation to others.
Drawn with the engaging panache of James Lee Burke, author Frank Turner Hollon's Jack Skinner, Attorney at Law, is three times divorced. He applies all his energy to battles waged in the courtroom, in thrall to the process, if not to the letter of the law. Priding himself on character assessment, Skinner is unusually preoccupied when he accepts Brad Caine as a client, a bad call, by any measure. In Skinner's own words, "The man who keeps his eyes straight ahead has a hard time watching his back."
Nearly broke, Skinner's oldest daughter detests him. His other daughter is emotionally damaged, her memory obliterated by drugs and strange men. This father has stood casually aside, watching his life slide into hell, a bottle of whiskey always nearby. A terrible personal flaw has poisoned any chance for redemption. Jack has a black mark against his soul, one that cannot be expiated, creating a dilemma for the reader. Where forgiveness is sought and given, there is no assurance that the act will be forgotten. Hence, Skinner drifts into an alcoholic haze by three o'clock every afternoon. The $5000 retainer Craine offers is more than sufficient to cover Skinner's services. Caine requests that the attorney research expunging his record, because he wishes to buy a bar and apply for a liquor license.
When Brad Craine is charged with a homicide committed during a burglary, Skinner decides to defend the earnest young man, who insists that he is innocent. In mounting Craine's defense, Skinner pulls out all the stops, especially since the case appears circumstantial, albeit compelling. Focusing all his energy on the trial, Skinner achieves his immediate goal: avoiding the moral quagmire his life has become. Helpless against his own demons, Skinner patently refuses to accept responsibility for the destruction of his family.
With stunning precision, the author tosses a bomb into the story, stunning everyone -- especially Skinner. Craine's performance on the stand is brilliant, but Hollon posits an impossible conundrum, a maze with no possible escape, considering the consequences. The author's writing is smooth as silk, the plotting masterful and Hollon's readers cannot resist falling into the vortex. Hang on, this is a rough ride.