Kindle Pre-Publication Edition
Review by J.S. Colley
Note: I received a free copy of the pre-publication ebook version of this novel from the author for review purposes.
The title of this book references a “small fish,” but the novel is definitely a keeper.
Pete Morin’s debut novel tackles a subject that could be as dry as aged wood chips, yet he manages to keep things supple and interesting. Let’s face it, if poorly written, a novel about political machinations and legal mumbo-jumbo could easily make your eyes droop and your head bob, but the author managed to keep me awake and entertained throughout.
They say to write what you know, and Pete Morin, Esq. is uniquely qualified to write this story. His bio states he’s been a politician, a big government general counsel, a lobbyist, and a grand jury witness ― all handy life experiences when writing a political crime thriller, and this one in particular. Morin’s expertise shows, but when the plot requires that he dole out some technicalities the reader is never bored by it.
Diary of a Small Fish is about Paul Forte, a guy who loves golf. Loves everything about it. He knows the rules and staunchly lives by them. One of those rules is you never ever offer to pay at another guy’s club. And you always offer a reciprocal. That’s just the way it’s done.
But when you work for the government, playing a round with your buddies can land you in jail.
One morning, a grand jury subpoena is shoved in Paul’s face and the niggling realization that all those rounds of golf, and the gourmet food and fine wine in the clubhouse after, might not be on the up-and-up after all. Even though he always voted his conscious when he was a legislator ― never once voting to favor a lobbyist ― it sure didn’t look that way from the outside.
And here we come to the main theme of the novel. Moral ambiguity. That fine line between black and white. That gray area of what is ethical behavior and what isn’t.
From my own unique life experiences, I developed the rigidly held rule of staying away from activities that could be considered ‘iffy’ when dealing with business cronies, even if everyone else was doing it ― even if the boss tells you it is part of the job. My unbending resolve saved my ass a few times, until upper management finally realize it was better to ban the practice altogether. Surprise! Business didn’t suffer one bit. Things still miraculously got done, just not over a gourmet meal. So the question this novel posed was an interesting one to me. It made me stop being quite so self-righteous and provided me with a better understanding of people who muddle around in that gray area and feel justified in doing so. But just where do you draw the line drawn between friendship and business? Sometimes that’s a tough question
The big question for Paul Forte ― both lover of golf and a true epicurean (the detailed food and fine wine references alone are worth the price of the book!) ― was whether he went out of bounds when he accepted all those rounds of golf and post-golf amenities from his lobbyist friends. He did it for the love of the game but was it really a felony? Soon he wouldn’t have to guess, a grand jury was going to decide for him.
Recently divorced from his wife, he turns to friends for support, until he meets Shannon, who sat on the grand jury for the trail of Raymond Stackhouse ― the main focus of the subpoena Forte had received ― and she becomes the main source of his comfort.
Soon after testifying at Stackhouse’s trial, Forte finds himself embroiled in his own trial for, what he thinks, are trumped-up charges by lawyer, Bernard “Don’t Call Me Bernie” Kilroy. Bernard holds the grand ambition of becoming the next Attorney General of the state. What better way to get noticed than to clean up corruption in the offices of state government and, at the same time, settle an old family score between the Fortes and the Kilroys?
But Forte is no dummy and he’s certainly not going down without a fight. He’s been around the block a few times. He has a few assets and tricks up his sleeve, and he uses them.
Even though the author manages to lay the legal and political groundwork for the novel in an interesting way, the novel really starts to crackle about half way through. That’s when the human element takes over ― from Paul’s lawyer, to his private detective, to his new girlfriend and gravely ill ex-wife. There are some very tender and uplifting moments outside a church on Christmas Eve that might have the reader in tears.
I wish the author had added a little more of the human element at the beginning of the novel. He does give an account of his failed marriage and how sad they both are at its dissolution, but I think giving us a few more glimpses of his life before receiving the subpoena would have made us care about his dilemma a little more. There is a scene in the last half of the novel where Forte admits to his ex-wife that he might have lied to her when they were married. Not about another woman or women, but about how much golf he really played. As it is, the author portrays the breakup of their marriage mainly on the mental instability of his ex ― but I think a lot of golf widows might argue that point. I get the impression the protagonists thought being faithful gave him the moral high-ground, or permission, to be less-than-honest in other areas. As long as he didn’t cross THAT line, then he needn’t feel as guilty about the other, less honest, things he does. But trust comes in all shapes and sizes. This is touched on in the novel but I think adding more of the parallel theme of “moral ambiguity” in their failed marriage would have served the novel well.
I’m not going to give any spoilers. This novel is about that narrow gray area between right and wrong but it’s also more. It’s about friendship and loyalty and forgiveness and responsibility. It’s about a guy finding his true self later in life, like most of us do.
As the saying goes, when we “know better,” we do better. If we don’t, then we haven’t succeeded in life.
Live and learn.
The author graciously added the beginning chapter of his next novel at the end of The Diary of a Small Fish and, I must say, I’m impressed. I can see the growth of the writer in just that one chapter. While Mr. Morin’s debut novel is commendable, his next novel looks like it will not only be a keeper, but one you might want to mount above your fireplace.