Blair Van Howe and his partner, Danny Moran, were celebrating the biggest victory of their legal careers when both of their lives were forever changed. Danny had enjoyed a three-month period during which he managed to stay sober, but the evening’s celebratory mood and flowing champagne proved to be his downfall. Blair navigated Danny’s new Porsche 911 at a reckless speed with Danny passed out in the passenger seat, narrowly avoiding a collision with an ongoing vehicle. The driver of the other car swerved, sending the vehicle straight into a tree.
Blair called 911 and unsuccessfully attempted to extricate the injured driver. In the process, the driver’s young daughter saw him and begged him to help her father. Panicked because he was about to announce his run for Congress, Blair made a choice that would determine the course of his life, as well as Danny’s: He dragged Danny into the driver’s seat and then left the scene.
First on the scene, Detective Victor Slazak is troubled by loose ends and determined to uncover the truth. But when Danny confesses and strikes a plea deal, determined to do the right thing and make amends, his bosses order him not to do any further work on the case. His colleagues are ordered not to provide him any additional information. And when he persists, credible threats force him to take the early retirement offered by the Chicago Police Department and flee to Las Vegas.
Disgraced and disbarred, Danny struggles with alcoholism and what his future might hold, as Blair’s political career takes off and he ironically becomes known as “Mr. Integrity” because of his public stances on ethical issues and accountability. But Blair and his advisers know the truth. To what lengths will they go to keep it hidden?
First-time novelist Joseph Hayes is an attorney who serves as the chief ethics officer and assistant general counsel for a large, publicly held company. When No One Is Watching is an exploration of the lives of the two men and how their choices impact not only their own lives, but the lives of those with whom they interact, including their families and business associates. They were best friends and law school classmates. In fact, were it not for Danny’s encouragement and tutelage of Blair, he would not have made it through school, although his innate charisma and flair for persuasive public speaking makes him a natural to enter the political arena after many years in practice with Danny.
Hayes deftly examines the subtle ways in which Blair is lured by the prospect of fame and power, allowing himself to be manipulated by both his ambitious wife and her corrupt dealbroker father, Sam. Blair makes a split-second decision at the scene of the accident, but once he confesses to his wife and father-in-law, events are set in motion and he allows himself to be swept along with the plan. He justifies his betrayal of his best friend by noting that, if elected, he can serve the greater good.
In contrast, Danny, who cannot remember any of the details of the accident, believes Blair’s rendition and trusts him implicitly. Danny believes that he is responsible for the accident and determined to do the right thing, no matter the personal cost to him. He has a daughter, Allie, who is about to begin her senior year in high school and, as a father, he is tormented by the knowledge that because of what he believes he did that fateful night, two other children will grow up without their own father.
Hayes takes readers into the world of Alcoholics Anonymous where Danny eventually finds redemption and devotes himself to helping others overcome their own addiction to alcohol. In a tale that spans more than a decade, Hayes details the very different paths the two men walk until the climatic moment when they are reunited and the truth is finally revealed. Along the way, Blair’s choice claims other victims as Hayes engulfs readers in a race to see if Blair will be unveiled as a fraud before he achieves his ultimate political goal.
Ultimately, When No One Is Watching is a morality play about honor, dignity, integrity, and being answerable to oneself by doing the right thing irrespective of whether anyone is watching. It is an impressive first work that gives readers plenty of questions to ponder, and would make an excellent book club selection.