June Read of the Month: “The Final Reckoning,” by Robert Bailey

Robert Bailey

Reviewed by Claire Hamner Matturro

Robert Bailey pumps up the thrill in legal thriller with the fourth and final book in his series about Professor Thomas McMurtrie, or Tom, a law professor who returns to the active practice of law. While none of the four books in his series lacks action, The Final Reckoning is explosive and displays every element of a classic thriller: fast pacing, strong narrative, fear, misery, and transcendence. Bailey proves once more that he is a fine writer with an instinct for powerful, white-knuckle narrative.

In The Final Reckoning, Tom is terminally ill, but he must live long enough to save his family from annihilation at the hands of JimBone Wheeler, a natural predator and criminally insane killer whom Tom helped place on death row. When the madman escapes and comes after Tom and his kith and kin, the dangers—and violence—escalate quickly.

Though there is enough fast-paced drama to satisfy any thriller addict, The Final Reckoning is also tenderhearted. Tom’s family struggles to come to terms with his stage-four cancer diagnosis, even as he seeks meaning in his last days. The relationship between Tom and his grandson Jackson is front and center. Bailey, a family man and no stranger to the impact of cancer on a household, proves himself to be moving, sensitive, and evocative in his telling of a grandson coping with the coming death of a beloved grandparent.

While the grandfather-grandson relationship governs the domestic storyline, the bittersweet relationship between McMurtrie and The General adds both warm richness and unfulfilled longing. The General is the nickname for Helen, a woman prosecutor who could have been Tom’s love interest. There is a palpable yearning between the two in some memorable scenes that hint at what could have been were it not for Tom’s terminal disease and devotion to his long-dead wife. When Tom and Helen are in his bedroom gathering guns for a coming confrontation, for instance, they pause a moment and sit side-by-side on his bed.

Helen took a seat next to him and wrapped an arm around his waist. After a couple of seconds, Tom placed his own arm around Helen and pulled her close to him. When he heard her chuckle, he looked into her green eyes. “What could you possibly find funny in all this?” he asked.

“Nothing really,” she said, and her tone was sad with a hint of bitterness. “Just…this is the first time I’ve even been on your bed.”

Tom blinked his eyes, not knowing what to say.

Helen is a force to be reckoned with.  Her sadness at losing her potential lover to cancer does not stop her from playing a hero’s role in the developing drama.

The basic plot about an escaped convict stalking a family might generate comparisons to the classic film Cape Fear (both versions), which features a convicted rapist who stalks a family for revenge. But The Final Reckoning has its own vivid, original storyline that’s more complex and intertwined, and gives readers a fresh look at terror and evil.

One would benefit from reading the earlier installments in this series in light of the references here to past events from those books. Yet Bailey supplies enough backstory that The Final Reckoning stands alone.

The Final Reckoning might be the most powerful of the four-book series, certainly it is the most violent and action-oriented, but it also has great heart. Tom’s friends and family naturally rally for him, putting themselves in grave danger. Bo, his best friend and a man with great pain and troubles of his own, and Rick Drake, Tom’s partner, all play essential roles in the developing crisis. Bo’s, The General’s and Rick’s devotion to Tom is a central theme in the story, as is Tom’s determination to save his friends and his family from a madman. The natural pathos in such a plot about a dying man battling great odds to save his family and friends is deftly handled by Bailey without tugging too hard at the heartstrings, yet he renders this story with such fine-tuned tenderness, one can’t help but be touched.

The Professor Tom McMurtrie series might now be over, but let us hope that Robert Bailey is using his considerable talents and imagination to write another series—and let’s hope Bo, The General, and Rick Drake come back in another book.

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