Trial and Error – Robert Whitlow

Trial and Error Robert Whitlow
Trial and Error by Robert Whitlow
Published by Thomas Nelson on February 2, 2021
Genres: Fiction, Christian, Suspense
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two-half-stars

A small-town lawyer has been searching for his daughter for eighteen years. Now another young woman is missing, and he’s determined to find them both—no matter the cost.
Buddy Smith built his law practice around tracking down missing children. After all, he knows the agony of being separated from a child. Not long after his daughter’s birth, her mother ran away and Buddy never saw either one again.
Gracie Blaylock has known Buddy her entire life, and now that she is clerk of court for the county, their paths cross frequently. When Gracie hears that a teenager in town, Reagan, has gone missing, she knows Buddy is the one for the case.
Reagan’s parents are desperate for answers. Together with Gracie and Mayleah—the new detective in town—Buddy chases all leads, hoping to reach Reagan before it’s too late. And as he pursues one teen girl, he uncovers clues that could bring him closer to the girl he thought he lost forever: his own daughter.
Master legal writer Robert Whitlow will keep you guessing in this gripping legal drama while reminding you of the power of God’s restoration.

Although I’m a big fan of legal thrillers—I’ve read everything Randy Singer has ever offered and am currently working my way through John Grisham’s oeuvre—I had only read a couple of Robert Whitlow novels, and none recently. I decided to remedy that with Trial and Error and the end result is a little bit like the title.

I’m not sure that I’d classify Trial and Error as a legal thriller. A lawyer is the main character and there are some scenes in a courtroom before a judge, but it’s mostly a series of interlocking stories about finding lost children. Buddy, our lawyer and protagonist, works primarily in the field of finding runaways, dealing with domestic kidnappings, and other sorts of family law. In Trial and Error, Buddy is dealing with two cases—one involving a kidnapping and one involving a runaway—and working on his own personal case.

Personally, Buddy is trying to track down his high school girlfriend and their daughter. Shortly after the baby’s birth when they were both seventeen, Amber took off with the baby and hasn’t been seen in seventeen years. When Buddy discovers that his late father had given money to Amber throughout the years, it serves as the catalyst he needs to track her down.

This was a storyline that had a lot of possibility for substance and nuance, but I didn’t feel like Whitlow explored it as thoroughly as he should have. The story is too straightforward, too easy, and the various characters never consider the implications of Buddy suddenly showing up. All these are handwaved away in favor of a happily-ever-after reconciliation that’s just too easy to be satisfying.

The other two stories involve a kidnapping where a father has left suddenly with his son and a runaway that have been lured into trafficking. Any one of these stories could have consumed a whole novel, but Whitlow jumps back and forth dipping a toe into each story without really giving readers a robust look at the whole. In particular, the runaway/sex trafficking storyline is all superficially handled and has little suspense value. It leads to the book’s biggest twist, but in a rather contrived, inorganic way. The only value to the kidnapping storyline, which is again easily resolved, is to set up the visiting judge as an arrogant curmudgeon. (No worries, that character flaw is also resolved easily.)

There’re hints of romance and major elements of faith. Again, there’s little conflict and everything is resolved easily. I enjoyed the characters. I enjoyed their story arcs. But the lack of obstacles as they moved along those arcs left the story with little suspense or believability. I’ll give Whitlow another shot in the future, but this one wasn’t for me.

two-half-stars