“The Wages of Sin” by Nancy Allen is the third book of the series that takes place in Southwest Missouri. It is not necessary to read the previous books to understand the plot and characters. Readers will get a very good understanding of how personalities affect court proceedings. The main issues explored are the death penalty, domestic violence, and child witnesses.
The novel opens with a pregnant woman being beaten to death by her boyfriend who is high on drugs. Because the eight-month-old baby also died the prosecution seeks the death penalty. Readers will learn certain tidbits, such as the fact that Missouri’s State Constitution considers life beginning at conception. Thus, the prosecution decided to seek justice for the eight-month-old baby rather than his drugged up mother. Because of the horrific crime the death penalty is sought, making it evident that the testimony of the lone eyewitness, 6-year-old Ivy, will be crucial.
Elsie Arnold, a prosecuting attorney in rural Barton City, McCown County, Missouri, wants to win the case to avenge the death of the mother and her unborn child. But as the trial nears, Elsie begins to harbor doubts about the death penalty itself. Allen explores how prosecutors must weigh the horrific crime versus the heavy burden of seeking someone’s death.
In addition, the author emphasizes how friendships can become detached over issues. Elsie is “unfriended” by her fellow prosecutor Breeon over her view on the death penalty. Instead of realizing people cannot agree on everything she becomes cold and distant, refusing to be there when needed by Elsie.
Allen knows something about domestic abuse cases since she practiced law for fifteen years as Assistant Missouri Attorney General and Assistant Prosecutor in her native Ozarks. She’s tried over thirty jury cases, including murder and sexual offenses. A quote from the book shows how women in the 1980s struggled to be accepted, “The necktie rule… they said no attorney could appear in court without a tie.”
“After getting out of law school, I was the only woman prosecutor in Southwest Missouri,” Allen said. “I guess I was a little bit of a trailblazer in that day. Women had to wear a uniform in court in the 1980s. We wore floppy silk ties, kinda like the Girl Scout tie. I had a little polka dot one and a little striped one.”
Regarding her female portrayals Allen feels there is a little of her in all the female characters. “Elsie is a cross between that TV Show “Beverly Hillbillies” character Ellie May Clampett and Amy Schumer in the movie “Train Wreck.” She echoed who I was in my youth. Being the only woman in the office I was thrown sex crime cases. Madeline, the County Prosecutor, Elsie’s boss, reflected my past experiences of having to confront, in the 1980s, the ‘good ol’ boys judicial club’ in Southwest Missouri. Even Ivy, the six year old witness represented the child in all of us who tries to please authority figures. Because I am a strong advocate of victim’s rights and have cut my teeth on child abuse cases I feel a bond with Ivy. It is a fact that the Ozarks has the highest rate of sex crimes involving children in all of Missouri, and this state is one of the top in the nation.”
Allen also gave a heads up about her future book projects. The next Elsie Arnold book has a standup member of a small town community charged with a crime. Elsie must bring down a person who is at the top of the pinnacle in her community. Allen is also co-authoring a legal thriller with James Patterson, titled “Juror # 3.” It is a new series stated by Patterson that will be part of the “
Anyone wanting to learn about legal issues and court procedures within a good story should read Allen’s books. She brings her experience and knowledge to the page to make the plots and characters believable.