Betrayal High: A Zachary Blake Legal Thriller
Mark M. Bello
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (07/2020)
As an attorney and civil justice advocate, author Mark M. Bello draws upon over 40 years of courtroom experience in his Zachary Blake Legal Thriller Series.
A Michigan native, Mark received his B.A. in English Literature from Oakland University and his law degree from Thomas M. Cooley Law School. After working extremely high profile legal cases, Mark wanted to give the public a front-row glimpse of what victims face when standing up for justice.
Combining his legal experience and passion for justice with a creative writing style, Mark not only brings high-quality legal services to his clients but captivating novels to his readers.
When Mark’s not writing legal and political novels, he writes and posts about fairness and justice in the civil justice system on his website, Legal Examiner and Injury Board. In his spare time, Mark enjoys traveling and spending time with his family. Mark and his wife, Tobye, have four children and 8 grandchildren.
Hi Mark, thank you for joining us today at Reader Views! To get started, please tell us a bit about yourself and your journey to becoming an author.
Thanks for having me! In a nutshell, I practiced law for over 40 years before becoming an author. In the 80’s I handled a priest-child abuse case against the Catholic Church. The cover-up, conspiracy of silence, and obstruction I experienced from the other side felt like something out of a spy novel—think Dan Brown or Daniel Silva. I always promised myself I would write a book about the experience, kind of a bucket list type of thing. As my career began to wind down, I sat down and wrote my first Zachary Blake novel, Betrayal of Faith. I thought that was it; I would fulfill my bucket list item and be done with it. However, the 2016 election came along and I started to wonder what the country would look like if a self-professed bigot was elected president. I sat down and wrote Betrayal of Justice. I caught the writer’s bug from there and added four more “ripped from the headlines” legal thrillers, including my latest novel, Betrayal High.
What is Betrayal High about?
Betrayal High tells the story of the story behind a school shooting. Yes, the horrific event happens, and the shooter seems to be a terrible young man. But what drove him to this madness? Were his victims randomly selected or were they specific targets? If targets, why? How did he get his hands on serious weapons? In this day and age, why didn’t security stop him? Where were his parents? How does the legal system, both criminal and civil handle such an event? Betrayal High tries to provide multiple points of view and educate the reader about the legal system, how corporate and political America manipulates the system, and its important role in these types of events.
All of your legal thrillers are based on actual news headlines in the world today. What compelled you to write about bullying and school shootings? What was your inspiration for the story?
My niece and nephew live in the Parkland School District and I have an apartment in nearby Delray Beach. I was in Florida when Parkland happened. While the book is not based on the Parkland incident, the shooting hit very close to home and I began to consider these cases. What are the root causes? How does a kid get these high-octane weapons? Where was security? How does a community cope? How would the legal system respond? I began to research the issue and the result is Betrayal High.
How does your background as an attorney influence your writing?
It has a huge influence on my writing. I try to transform my legal knowledge and experience into what I like to call ‘realistic fiction’, researching an incident or series of incidents (school shootings in Betrayal High, police shootings of black citizens in Betrayal in Black, clergy abuse in Betrayal of Faith, and anti-Muslim bias and White Supremacy in Betrayal of Justice and Betrayal in Blue). How would a criminal lawyer handle a client’s defense? How would a civil lawyer get to the truth? These notions motivated actions as a lawyer and, these days, the motivate me as a writer. My next book, Supreme Betrayal, examines a case of an earlier sexual assault perpetrated by a current candidate for the Supreme Court and a political conspiracy to cover it up and assure the appointment. Sound familiar?
Sounds like you’ve really taken ‘write what you know’ to heart. That said, what was the most challenging part of your story in terms of research?
The research is not terribly difficult; these stories are well publicized and, in most cases (Supreme Betrayal being an obvious exception) there are multiple incidents to look at. I try to make my characters and incidents a compilation of real-life characters and incidents. Then, I put my lawyer hat on and decide how the criminal or civil (or both) justice systems would handle the people and the circumstances.
What can you tell us about your protagonist, Zachary Blake? What motivates him, what are his quirks, and what do you think appeals about him most to readers?
Zachary is a tough guy, much tougher than me. He’s the type of lawyer I would have liked to be, but he’s smarter and much more talented. His best feature (and an important character trait of every great lawyer) is that he is fearless. Whether he’s taking on a worldwide religious order (Faith), a municipality and its police department (Black), the gun lobby and the NRA (High) or even the president of the United States (Justice), he is relentless and unafraid. David can defeat Goliath.
How closely do his values, ethics, and political beliefs, resemble his author?
As I indicated, he’s much smarter and more talented than I was, but as to those three issues, he is a mirror image of me.
WHY do you write about social justice?
Because these issues are important and largely ignored, until something happens to you. I try to put my readers in my characters’ shoes. And I try to do this from multiple perspectives. How would you like to be the woman whose husband was senselessly shot and killed in front of you and your small children? How would you like to be the cop who shot him or the police chief who has to clean up the mess? How would you like to be a Muslim or a Mexican and have the president of the United States bash you and your people all of the time? None of us would want our children to be school shooting victims, of course, but is your child a good citizen or a bully? Is the young shooter solely responsible or is there plenty of blame to go around? Why do large corporations get the equivalent of corporate welfare from the government while victims are left without compensation? These issues drive me, and, with my writing, I can touch and enlighten many more people than I ever could as a practicing lawyer.
Kevin Burns, the shooter, is a victim himself of violent, long-term bullying from his peers. It feels like society failed him and lack of adult intervention drove him over the edge. What can be done, in your opinion, to eradicate bullying?
My father used to say “Education, education, education—it is the ticket to success.” Parents need to set a better example and make sure kids get the tools they need to success in life. I’m talking about social interaction and simple kindness and understanding, not business. How do we measure success? Money? Or random acts of kindness?
America is still a grand experiment. We the people establish a constitution and certain freedoms. We decide to welcome people of all races, creeds, religions, and origins. Then, without a primer, we say “now, go forward, multiply, and, oh, by the way, get along with each other.” We need to embrace and celebrate our differences, not fight over them. We need to learn as much about what make someone else tick as we can. We also need to stop blaming other races and religions for our lot in life. If we are failing, it is our fault, not theirs. “Do onto others as you would have them do onto you” could not be a more appropriate motto for 21st Century America.
On the other side of the spectrum is Kenny Tracey, a model student, citizen, and up-and-coming social advocate and young attorney in the making. The differences between the two boys are immeasurable. Can we the people fix social disparity? It seems like it’s getting worse, not better.
This is another example of how I like to write from different character perspectives. Both Kevin and Kenny were abuse victims. The book mentions this but doesn’t dwell on it. Why has Kenny done so well, and Kevin has not? Because Kenny was given the support, tools, treatment, and social status to help him heal and thrive. Kevin, on the other hand, was shunned by his parents, left to his own devices, forced to move into a community where he was not a good fit, and introduced to guns as a “hobby.” I don’t know how to fix social disparity, other than try to provide equal opportunities for all. We are a capitalist society. However, we don’t have to embrace policies that make the rich richer and the poor poorer, do we? Why is welfare for the rich okay, but a government “hand-out” for the poor? People need to realize that our union of ‘we the people’ is stronger and better when all of us are included and no one is left behind.
You could make a similar comparison between Zack and Barrington. Both are wealthy and accomplished men who have achieved elite status in their respective professions. One uses his wealth and power to sell weapons on the black market and leverage politicians. The other uses his to help people in need and contribute to causes that benefit society. Quite a stark difference in values, no?
Betrayal High is distinctively positioned to appeal to the young adult and (not so young) adult crowds. What do you hope are the biggest takeaways in Betrayal High for young adults?
I hope that parents, teachers, and kids who read this book realize that unless we change our behavior toward each other, these things can easily happen in our school and our neighborhood. I would hope that the takeaway is that all of us work as hard as we can to change our “us vs. them” mentality and become and inclusive rather than exclusive society.
It’s incomprehensible that our society has been desensitized to the point of “accepting” school shootings as a part of the high school journey. Who’s to blame?
Every single one of us. We can all look in the mirror and decide to do better and be better.
You make some strong points in Betrayal High about picking and choosing Constitutional Amendments ala carte. Why has the Second Amendment become such a political stronghold?
Along with the 1st Amendment, it has been around almost for as long as our union. Over the life of our country, it has become rooted in our culture in many states. I don’t know why it has become such a political lightning rod. That’s above my pay grade. I am a huge supporter of our constitution and the 2nd Amendment as part of that document. But so is the right to a jury trial in civil cases (7th Amendment) free of tort reform. So is the right to jury trial in criminal case (6th Amendment) and ‘innocent until proven guilty’ (14th Amendment). Does anyone care about those? People are constantly tried and convicted in the press. Our elected representatives pass statutes like the one cited in Betrayal High to protect wealthy gun manufacturers from lawsuits. What the hell? What I do know is that no one needs an automatic weapon for protection or to hunt. I would like to see consistent enforcement of our constitutional rights. What we have today is constitutional hypocrisy.
What does the Second Amendment have to do with weapons of mass destruction?
Absolutely nothing. The weapon of choice in 1776 was a single shot musket. The purpose of the 2nd Amendment was to protect the citizens from a potentially oppressive government. Franklin and Jefferson did not contemplate weapons of mass destruction. Today, our government has nukes—what good is an automatic weapon against a nuke?
In addition to writing novels about social justice you also co-host a talk show. Can you tell us a bit about your show? What is the goal of the show? Where can listener’s find you, etc.?
The show is on hiatus because my co-host became ill. My search for a new sidekick was interrupted by the CoVid-19 pandemic. Episodes of my podcast, Journey into Justice, can be found on my website at www.markmbello.com. The concept is similar to my writing. We discuss one or two topics in the context of how the legal system deals with them. I was having fun with it and I’m looking forward to its’ return.
Being an author is a full-time job in and of itself these days. How do you balance your work as an attorney with your writing and your family life?
Writing and, especially marketing does take up a lot of my time. When I practiced law, my time belonged to my office, clients, judges, and other attorneys. My schedule was often dictated for me, not by me. As a writer, my time is my own, and I enjoy being a grandfather (Popi). NOTHING gets in the way of that.
What part of the author’s life do you enjoy most?
When an idea clicks, and the juices start flowing. Words fly off the computer keyboard—life is good. It doesn’t happen that often, but when it does, it is very satisfying. Next to that, it is the satisfaction of finishing a book and discovering that people actually like it. Who would have thought?
What is the most difficult part of the writing/publishing process?
Getting people to buy my books. I am shocked at how difficult it is to get someone to part with $3-$5 in exchange for hours and days of entertainment. As a lover and purchaser of my fellow authors’ products, that has been the biggest surprise.
Betrayal High is available now for preorder and releases August 1st, so I imagine you’ll be working on marketing and promotion for a bit. Do you have plans to continue your Zachary Blake series in the future? If so, what’s the next item of social justice to be tackled?
Yes, as noted above. Supreme Betrayal is about sexual assault, social status, and political power. Can a brave young woman prevent a sexual predator from gaining a seat on the United States Supreme Court?
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, as it relates to writing or regarding life in general?
My father’s advice, which I shared earlier, was crucial to my success. The social justice example my parents set for me was equally important. It all starts with your parents and your upbringing. The first courtroom I ever walked into as a lawyer in 1978 had a gold sign behind the judge’s bench. It read: “Justice, Justice, shalt thou pursue.” I have strived to follow that mandate ever since.
What advice can you give to aspiring authors based on your own experience?
Barbra Streisand sings a song which, I think, comes from Sesame Street. “Sing a song, sing out loud, sing out long. Don’t worry if it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear, just sing.” The same is true for writing. “Just write.”
Mark, thank you so much for joining us today at Reader Views! It’s been a pleasure getting to know more about you and your work!
Thanks for the opportunity and a special thanks to my readers and reviewers who keep me grounded and writing.
CONNECT WITH MARK M. BELLO!
Mark’s books can be found on his website, Amazon, Goodreads, and all other online retailers. The books are available for reader, in print, or as audiobooks.