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A Glimpse into State of Redemption

District Attorney Tommy Branscum is running for Governor of Vermont. Scion of a prominent family steeped in law and politics, Milford’s native son seeks the prize that has long eluded his forebears. Matt Matheny has returned to his childhood home of Milford seeking to restart a life set adrift by the stillbirth of his only child and the unexpected death of his wife Liz just months later.

Two lives headed in opposite directions. Yet they share in common an event occurring thirty years ago in the parking lot of the Milford Police Department. Tommy and Matt are the only living witnesses to the murder of Caroline Dawson, an innocent child from the wrong side of the tracks. What happened on that summer night has long been forgotten by most in the small community. But not by Caroline’s killer, her grieving parents, a parish priest and a malevolent family patriarch. And not by a boy of ten unable to fully comprehend what he saw from a darkened alley.

Now, thirty years older and with Marianne Carpenter by his side, Matt makes a shocking discovery rocks the town of Milford, shakes Vermont’s power structure to its core and threatens their lives.

State of Redemption is a compelling novel by Richard McKeown that tells a story of how the privileged and the poor, the innocent and the guilty, and the good and the evil finally receive the justice they deserve. And the freedom they need.

Michael Hewes was ten minutes late and didn’t apologize, even insincerely, as he barged into the jury deliberation room, serving as a conference room on this occasion. Michael shook rain residue off his umbrella before slinging his backpack onto the polished cherry table. He didn’t even have the grace to shake hands with the trio seated at the table before plopping down in a well-padded chair. Michael rummaged through the backpack for a legal pad as Tommy Branscum attempted to introduce Michael to his father and namesake T. Bentley Branscum, III, and Tommy’s legal assistant, Ryan Bond. Michael emptied the contents of his backpack onto the table in search of a working pen. An Advil caplet. Paper clips. Bic lighter. Loose change. No pen. Not until he reached over and snatched a pen on the table next to old Bentley Branscum’s legal pad did he acknowledge anyone.

“Hope you don’t mind if I borrow this, Pops,” Michael said, briefly admiring the hand- crafted wood-grained pen, which he guessed to also be cherry. “I’m going to cut to the quick right up front,” Michael said as he scribbled on a pad with the old man’s pen. “It’ll save you money and save me time. And at my rate, saving a little bit of my time will save you a lot of money.”

Now he looked up and directly at Tommy Branscum. Michael Hewes’ reputation for being brusque preceded him. Still, his directness caught the others off guard.

“If I’m going to be your campaign consultant, rule number one is that I know everything. And by that, I mean everything about you,” Michael said, pointing his finger in the style of Uncle Sam directly across the table at Tommy casually leaning back in his chair.

“If you want me to put together a strategy to make sure you get elected Governor, I need to know what your opponent’s strategy should be for making sure you don’t. And to do that, I need to know it all. Every little piece of information that could be used against you. Truth, rumor, lies. Doesn’t matter. I want it all. Every bad decision you’ve made. Every indiscretion, no matter how small. Every deep, dark secret dating back at least to the age of accountability. Which I figure to be about eight years old. If you ever stole so much as a piece of gum from the corner store, I want to know. If you cheated on a spelling test in fifth grade or snapped the bra of some girl in junior high study hall, tell me now. If you ever smoked a blunt, whether you inhaled or not. Women. Boys. And if there are boys, I’ll be happy to recommend a new campaign consultant. I need to know the stuff nobody knows, the stuff you think nobody knows, and the stuff you think everyone has forgotten. Not what’s on the record. I can get that. I have already started to. By the way, do you ever take a case to trial? Seems to me you cut deals a lot. A whole lot. That might work up here amongst your friends and neighbors, but statewide it will be a hobbyhorse your opponent could ride all the way to Montpelier. And if they’re smart, they will,” Michael said.

It was true. As the district attorney for four counties in Vermont’s northwest corner, Tommy Branscum did tend to swap negotiated pleas for reduced or suspended sentences.

“But we can talk about that later. For now, I want to know the names of the skeletons and whose closet they’re in,” Michael said. “Lay it all out there. I don’t want any surprises. And neither do you.”

Michael Hewes may have been from just across Lake Champlain, but he might as well have landed from an alien planet as far as the others were concerned. His rumpled appearance, blunt manner and frenetic energy were foreign to the trio he was meeting with.

At the head of the table was Tommy’s father, the Branscum family patriarch, who instinctively sat at the head of any table he graced. As a retired justice of the Vermont Supreme Court,

Bentley Branscum was accustomed to holding court wherever he was. What he was not accustomed to was being railed at by the likes of Michael Hewes.

Tommy knew his father was irritated by the way he tugged at the sleeves of his French cuffed, hand-tailored monogrammed white shirt. White. Always white. The nervous tugging didn’t mean anything to Michael, but Tommy had seen it throughout his life. It was a sure sign his old man wasn’t happy. Had Michael been paying the slightest bit of attention, he might have noticed the scowl that turned the seventy- seven-year-old judge’s ruddy complexion an even deeper shade of red. It stood in stark contrast to the full shock of white hair he brushed straight back, and which curled at the neck. If he wore an ascot, Bentley Branscum would appear more like a 19th-century Dickens character than a retired chief justice.

If old Bentley looked irritated, Tommy’s legal assistant appeared stricken. Ryan Bond was just a year out of law school and had never witnessed a performance quite like Michael Hewes’. Ryan was accustomed to watching Tommy aggressively prosecute and harangue defendants in a courtroom. But usually with a rhetorical scalpel. He wasn’t accustomed to watching someone demand Tommy account for himself. Much less with a rhetorical meat cleaver.

Looking at Bentley, Ryan thought the vein in the old man’s left temple might explode at any minute. Only Tommy didn’t seem too out of sorts by Michael’s tirade. More than irritated or stricken,

Tommy was somewhat amused. Leaning back in his chair and swiveling slowly from side to side, Tommy held Michael’s stare while chewing on his bifocals. The resulting silence filled the room every bit as much as Michael’s rapid-fire delivery had.

After a moment, Tommy pulled up to the table, downed the last of his water and, with a perfect bank shot, tossed the empty bottle into a corner trashcan. Then he turned his attention to Michael.

“I’m not sure if I should hire you because I want you working for me or because I don’t want you working against me,” Tommy said with a light chuckle.

Michael smiled and shrugged. Ryan laughed nervously, relieved that the tension had been broken. Bentley wasn’t at all relieved, much less amused.

“Since you seem to appreciate direct talk, let me say this,” Tommy said. “If I hire you, you damn sure better be all you make yourself out to be. Because I can’t afford to pay you what you think you’re worth only to find out you’re not,” he said.

Michael stiffened at the implication.

Chapter 2, State of Redemption

Richard McKeown brings a skilled southern storytelling style to a powerful result as he revisits his New England childhood. With hints of John Grisham, William Styron and Scott Turow, State of Redemption is a delightfully moving read for lovers of crime, mystery, cold cases, conspiracy, suspense and political intrigue.

Barnaby Dinges, Author of Ragged Run

Richard McKeown’s page-turning novel, State of Redemption, has everything a thriller reader wants: fleshed-out characters, a decades-old unsolved murder, political maneuverings, official misconduct, and an exciting denouement. I’m ready for his second book!

Joe David Rice, An Undercurrent of Murder

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