After Audrey Cutler is snatched from her bedroom in the middle of the night, the lives of her seven-year-old brother, Sammy, and his best friend, Jason Kolarich, are forever scarred by the tragedy. Griffin Perlini, a known sex offender who lives nearby, is suspected of the crime, but the case is never solved and Perlini goes free. After Audrey’s disappearance, Sammy’s already dreadful home situation turns from bad to worse.
Growing up in a grief-stricken family, Sammy seeks escape through drugs and becomes involved in crime. Jason briefly heads down the same path, but because of his success on the football field in high school and the loyalty of Sammy, Jason is spared from spending time in juvenile detention. Jason eventually escapes the neighborhood and his abusive father by way of an athletic scholarship, leading him to receive a college education and a law degree. Additionally, he marries the woman of his dreams, and they have a beautiful daughter together.
Sammy, who continues to have run-ins with the law into adulthood, is not as lucky. And neither is Jason’s younger brother, Pete. Slighter in stature than Jason, Pete is the unlucky target of their drunken father’s physical and emotional abuse. Although Jason was fortunate enough to escape this deplorable family situation, he has never forgotten his roots.
But despite being able to leave all the misery, the misery is able to find Jason. Thirty years after Audrey’s abduction, Jason is a broken man. Once on a fast track to stardom in a high-powered criminal defense firm, he crashes and burns after his wife and daughter are killed in a freak car accident one night while he was working on a high-profile case. Blaming himself for their deaths, he trades his success and notoriety for isolation and despair and walks away from a promising future to begin a modest law practice.
One day, a nattily dressed mysterious client known as “Mr. Smith” hires Jason to defend Sammy on the charges of murdering a man suspected of abducting young Audrey 30 years ago. The evidence against Sammy is overwhelming, and the trial is scheduled to begin shortly. In addition to paying Jason a huge retainer, Mr. Smith lays out Sammy’s defense. He gives Jason his marching orders, including providing an eyewitness who can exonerate Sammy, and expects Jason to fall in line and conclude the trial quickly. But things don’t add up for Jason, who is determined to find the truth and is not afraid to stand up to Mr. Smith or a prosecution out to convict Sammy of murder.
When Jason refuses to buckle to Mr. Smith’s threats, Pete is imprisoned on a federal drug and weapons charge. Jason realizes Pete has been set up and suspects there is more to the case than proving the innocence of Sammy. Fighting against the odds and against the clock, Jason must first discover the truth about the past in order to save his brother’s life and prove his friend’s innocence.
In THE HIDDEN MAN, David Ellis has created a likable hero in Jason Kolarich, an everyday man who has scraped his way to the top through hard work and determination yet still remains true to his values. Ellis, the lead prosecutor in the trial of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, has used his first-hand knowledge of the criminal defense system to craft a thoughtful and surprising thriller that ponders the larger questions of fate, loyalty, redemption, and having the courage to do what is right in spite of the risks and regardless of the consequences.
Reviewed by Donna Volkenannt on April 27, 2011