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Presumption of Guilt

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Despite an unfortunate title that makes it sound like one more Scott Turow knockoff, this deceptively straightforward first novel by an Ohio Supreme Court justice tells a compelling, cautionary tale. In the current hysteria over the sexual abuse of children, Herb Brown’s Presumption of Guilt also delivers a timely warning: When a frightened child tells a story, a criminal courtroom may be the worst place in the world to sort out truth from fiction.

Narrator Charles King is a precocious 7 when his mother finds his bloody undies hidden in his bedroom. Before the boy can invent an alibi mother figures things out for herself. Or thinks she does, anyway, which is where the suspense comes in. The presumptive villain is the babysitter, Howard, a shy, overweight high school kid.

Although Charles’ first-person narrative voice may seem a bit contrived now and then, everything else in Presumption is dead on target. Brown plays no favorites. Both the catch-22 nature of psychiatric testimony — a child tends to be believed when his story coincides with the doctor’s theories, disbelieved when he recants — and the often brutal consequences of lawyers willing to go to almost any lengths to win are persuasively dramatized. B+