February 2004

Janine Armin


Sins of Two Fathers by Denis Hamill

After many years as a journalist on the New York crime beat, Dennis Hamill is perfectly positioned to give us an inside look at crime reportage in this very illuminating thriller. The plot of Sins of Two Fathers is thick with characters each equipped with motive and ripe for suspicion. Hank Tobin is a New York columnist whose ambition to find the perfect story makes victims of his subjects. A mystery caller who refers to himself as ďLLĒ interferes in Hank Tobinís success and spends years plotting to make sure that Tobin does not get off so easy. In order to make him pay for the column which tore LLís family apart, LL strategically schemes to sabotage Tobinís already fragile family structure.

In the midst of the escalating tragedies in Tobinís life, a son going to jail for a supposed terrorist attack, a daughter facing time for a hate crime she did not commit, an intricate relationship is developed between Tobin and his persecutor. Surprisingly, Tobinís hatred turns to sympathy as he realizes that it was his own malicious column that brought upon him the wrath he is now receiving. Tobin is forced to confront his wrongful behaviour with respect to those whom he incriminated with his column and to his own family. His lust for public acclaim and wealth had distanced him from humanity.

Hamillís use of the general suspense genre to illuminate political realities faced by a reporter educates in an invigorating way. Ethical considerations are drawn into question as the protagonistís love for family is put to a most severe test. Tobinís character is drawn against his tough-minded and strikingly beautiful editor, who has made the mistaken choice of power over the soft and rewarding joy of family. She represents a warning. Although she is immensely attractive in her strong-willed manner, she is a figure of a deep and hard-earned loneliness. However, the narrative allows her, as it does each of the characters, the chance to escape from the foreseeable fate.

LLís threatening phone calls to Tobin inspire a series of crusades wherein each individual in the novel is miraculously able to see their follies and given the opportunity to salvage their lives. Appropriately set in the wake of 9-11, Hamill creates an air of remorseful hysteria. There is a suggestion that the problems overcome by characters will last, presenting the soothing difference between the permanence of fiction and the more treacherous unpredictability of real life. Tobinís wife may get her family back, LLís family may reunite, a cop may revive his love life, a reporter may get the chance to do the right thing.

Hank Tobinís life is minutely detailed by Hamill; in particular it illuminates the real-life struggles of an ambitious reporter to find even minimal time for family. The competitive environment of journalism is given accurate description, but the hard-boiled attitudes that seem to infect each character so thoroughly, seem a little too extended a metaphor. Regardless, the biting nature of each character creates a consistently thrilling text. Tobinís wife is a tough cop, whose brittle exterior is impressed upon her young daughter who exhibits a rather unconvincing venomous attitude.

Tobinís desperation to free his own son, translates into a quest to become a better man, the man he was before the column consumed his life. The novel is essentially the story of a family reuniting in the midst of a tragedy, and the suspenseful narrative soaks up a good amount of the sappiness of this genre.

It is clear that Hamill is both a writer and a reader, in his understanding of our needs when approaching a thriller. The final scene in the book is immensely satisfying, in spite of the messy corroboration of characters that is basically impossible to calculate, there remains some of the satisfaction that is brought with a crime being resolved. Part of the luxury of suspense novels is the ability to envision a solution before the actualization. Though ďSins of Two FathersĒ takes us on a labyrinth tour, our wannabe detective desires are somehow appeased by each small, though misguided lead we find answer to before it hits the page.

Though this may not be a great work of literature, it is certainly a savory read filled with tension packed moments and diverse suspects. Hamillís experience in journalism translates provocatively into this novel, which serves as both an informative experience and a suspenseful story.

Sins of Two Fathers by Denis Hamill
Atria Books
ISBN: 074346298X
384 Pages