4 out of 4 stars
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Lester Mobey was a history buff with a checkered past, who described the human brain as evolution's magnum opus, but with a backdoor at nighttime, open to enemies. The unconscious sleeping mind was unprotected at such times, and irrational fears could and did slip over the wall to cause mayhem. Lester compared it to the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus's description of a successful, if unusual, night combat by the Spartans in 480 B.C. They won the battle with a thousand Persians to one Spartan. Lester, to this day, does not sleep because his demons come at night.
The protagonist of Evolution's Magnus Opus, Tommy Henderson, the ten-year-old son of Linda Henderson, would come to understand Lester's anguish with night terrors of his own. When we meet Tommy, he is preparing for the worst experience a young boy could have; he is to testify in a sexual abuse case against a master at his school. Tommy is the primary witness. He has been prepped by his mother and their counsel, Assistant Crown Attorney Jonathon Sussman, as to likely questions and how he should answer. Lester Mobey is a wily defending counsel who prepares meticulously. Will he cast doubt on Tommy's testimony? How will this trauma affect Tommy as he grows up?
Through many innovative twists and turns, the author takes the reader through the court case, the impact on the lives of the principal characters, and gives us a whopping surprise ending. Kudos to Stephen M. Roth for a masterly first novel, a fiction but based on some of his own boyhood experiences.
I liked the elegant prose of this book, just reading any of the words is a pleasure reminiscent of an Agatha Christie mystery. The characters are developed throughout and have authenticity. Even bit-characters like Bailiff Howard King and Court Clerk Muriel Lawson feel real and add to the story development as they comfort Tommy in small ways.
I enjoyed this novel's length and understanding Tommy's point of view as he grew into manhood. He was valiant in forging a life for himself; he married Veronica, and they had a son, Lucas, whom they both adored. But Tommy's innocence was lost, and it would never come back. We follow the lives of Tommy, his mother, Linda, his friend George Gerontonis, Counsels Jonathon Sussman and Lester Mobey, and the accused teacher, Robert Hiller.
I appreciated the plot involving court procedures and understanding the law, justice, human weaknesses, and strengths. The story is poignant because of the subject matter, but it is not too explicit and did not affect this well-constructed court drama's readability.
I rate Evolution's Magnum Opus 4 out of 4 stars for its presentation, chapter headings that develop anticipation like "The Art of the Cross," plot, and characters. I do not rate it 3 out of 4 stars because it is an intense and authentic court drama with an unexpected ending. I detected nothing to dislike. I found one profane word uttered in a foreign language, "Hijoputa." which did not distract from my reading enjoyment at all. I believe the book is professionally edited.
I recommend it to people who enjoy court drama, a polished writing style, and stunning creativity. It is not for young readers because of the subject matter.
Evolution's Magnum Opus
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