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Benefit of the Doubt


Benefit of the Doubt

Neal Griffin is a law enforcement veteran with a quarter-century service and is a certified master instructor in law enforcement leadership and ethics. His biographical information also alludes to his having spent his formative years in a small town similar to the fictional but seemingly real Newburg, Wisconsin, on which his debut novel, BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT, is based. His background lends an additional layer of gravitas upon the narrative.

The focus of the book is on Ben Sawyer, a town son who left its relatively small city limits to join the Oakland, California police force. A moment’s on-duty screw-up resulted in Ben leaving that department in disgrace to return to Newburg, with his wife Alex and teenage son, in order to take a position with the Newburg P.D. The hiring is somewhat fraught with nepotism and resultant resentment from others on the force given that Lars Norgaard, the chief of police, is Ben’s father-in-law.

"Griffin seems possessed of a raw talent that will see him in good stead as he hones his craft. Be sure to check out this grim first effort."

Ben’s position becomes more tenuous when Norgaard has a stroke and Walter Jorgensen, Norgaard’s rival in the department, steps into the incapacitated chief’s position. Jorgensen is as corrupt as a cop can be, his capacity for graft exceeded only by Doyle McKenzie, who is a bottom feeder in the worst possible sense. Ben suspects that McKenzie is goldbricking at best and corrupt at worst, but his efforts to do anything about it are constantly stymied by Jorgensen. Ben’s frustration level rises. As a result, what is bad at work becomes worse at home, a situation aggravated by his wife’s concern over her father’s healing and his son’s open hostility over the family’s uprooting from Oakland to the back end of Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, a convicted killer named Harlan Lee has just been released from several years of hard time at the penitentiary, and he has nothing but vengeance on his mind. Lee has had plenty of time for woolgathering, and his plans for revenge upon society, particularly against certain people in the town of Newburg, are carefully conceived for exquisite execution. Ben has no idea that his family members are among those in Lee’s crosshairs. Thus he is totally at a loss when Alex is suddenly and inexplicably accused of murder and tossed into jail with her conviction all but certain.

If he has any hope of salvaging his family, Ben must research the past in order to determine who would target his loved ones, as well as others in the area, and why. His sole ally is Tia Suarez, a rookie officer who is as unpopular as he is. Her involvement in his off-the-books investigation will put her in mortal danger as well, even as Alex’s trial date --- and seemingly pre-ordained conviction --- approaches. Ben must somehow stop a killer and gather evidence to clear his wife, even as time quickly winds down. But how?

BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT is a dark novel, with violent acts graphically portrayed, as is the gritty nobility of Ben Sawyer, who soldiers on against seemingly impossible odds. While it may be a work of fiction, its vignettes and observations appear to have been culled from any number of case files or conversations held late at night in cop bars far off of highway interstates. Griffin seems possessed of a raw talent that will see him in good stead as he hones his craft. Be sure to check out this grim first effort.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 22, 2015

Benefit of the Doubt
by Neal Griffin

  • Publication Date: December 29, 2015
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books
  • ISBN-10: 0765381583
  • ISBN-13: 9780765381583