Guilty as Sin

Inspired by True Events

Fiction - Thriller - General
379 Pages
Reviewed on 06/24/2023
Buy on Amazon

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    Book Review

Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite

Guilty as Sin: Inspired by True Events by Ken Wilson is a true-crime story that follows the case of a child murdered for financial gain in Montana. Michael Maddox was born into a difficult environment in East Texas. With an absent drug addict father and a mother also on drugs, Michael struggled to cope with his domestic problems growing up. When his now “clean” mother sought a new life for the pair in Montana, it seemed like things were finally looking up for the young boy. However, it wasn’t long before Michael’s mother was using again, and Michael ended up in the care of state agencies. Fostered into the Riker family and eventually adopted by the Rikers, it appeared things could only improve for Michael. But Lora and Leroy Riker had other plans for their new son. When Michael accidentally drowned on a fishing trip with his new father and a young friend, the question immediately arises: did Michael fall into the river and drown, or was he murdered? Detective Russ Wyatt and his partner are tasked with unraveling the mystery of Michael’s untimely death and discovering if there was a nefarious side to this sad end to Michael’s short life.

It is often said that truth is stranger than fiction, and Guilty as Sin is proof positive of this. Author Ken Wilson meticulously details the events leading up to Michael’s untimely demise, the investigation of the suspicious drowning, and ultimately the court case that would decide what happened to Michael on that fateful day. The story is told from various perspectives, giving the reader a clear insight into the mindset and motivations of the multiple participants in this gruesome case. Narrated principally by Detective Russ Wyatt, we get a feel for the obvious inconsistencies in the stories of the two adoptive parents as they try to cover up their heinous acts. I particularly appreciated the author's methodical and careful writing style, as the damning evidence against the perpetrators was slowly collected. The story flows seamlessly as the evidence against Leroy and Lora is compiled, culminating in a presentation at trial that, to a large extent, is presented through the eyes of true-crime television commentators, which is both clever and different. This is an excellent read that I thoroughly enjoyed and can highly recommend.

Anne-Marie Reynolds

Guilty as Sin: Inspired by True Events by Ken Wilson is a crime thriller. Michael wanted nothing more than a family to love him and keep him safe. At age 10, he finally found that family. His older brother was also in the care system. With his dad dead and his mother in prison, he finally felt as though he belonged. However, his happiness was to be short-lived, as just three weeks before he turned 11, his body was found in the water. As the investigation by Detective Russ Wyatt gathered pace, secrets and lies were uncovered and the horror unfolded with a terrifying turn of events. Just how safe are foster care homes?

Guilty as Sin by Ken Wilson is a harrowing tale, even more so because it is based on true events. It is cleverly written, with all the puzzle pieces neatly slotted together to form the full picture. As the main character, Michael will capture your heart from the outset and you’ll keep him there all the way through and long after you’ve finished the book. The narrative starts with a plan for a perfect crime – except that’s not how it turned out – and it relates all the subsequent events as they unfold. It’s a horrifying story and it makes your heart go out to all the kids in foster care. It’s the perfect example of how easily the system can fail a person when they are truly in need. This is a riveting read and you won’t be disappointed. It is brilliantly written and is a read-in-one-sitting account.

Jamie Michele

In Guilty as Sin by Ken Wilson, Detective Russ Wyatt investigates the suspicious death of foster child Michael Riker, revealing a plot involving filicide and insurance fraud by his adoptive parents, Leroy and Lora Riker. Wyatt's personal connection drives him to expose the flawed system. As the investigation progresses, the Rikers become paranoid, tripping over one another as the investigation closes in and leading to the identification of a mysterious man who becomes a person of interest in a manhunt. This is the real turning point in accumulating the last of the crucial evidence that needs to be gathered, and then a trial begins that highlights guilt and greed. Meanwhile, the flaws in the foster care and adoption system are exposed and advocacy to improve policies is at the forefront as a trial over the death of a vulnerable little boy is broadcast nationwide.

Guilty As Sin is, at its core, a book about how the foster care system and often subsequent adoption processes need an overhaul. The novel isn't a mystery because the reader knows the who, what, when, where, and why for about 95% of the death from the word go, but except for the finer details that do not change the parameters of the case for us, the readers, they are a mystery to Detective Wyatt. The novel is a character-driven story about Wyatt trying to figure out what we have largely already been told, and then trying to prove it. Wyatt is a valiant, likable protagonist that we root for. He has qualities in abundance with chief among them being his relentless pursuit of the truth, shedding light on dark secrets, and a commitment to holding the guilty accountable. The standout for me as a reader was the frustration that author Ken Wilson demonstrates about a system with horrific degrees of negligence that fail to protect children. Wilson pulls no punches and the message lands and sticks long after the book is finished. Guilty as Sin is thought-provoking and a unique case study and I think readers interested in social interest fiction and true crime will agree.

K.C. Finn

Guilty As Sin is a work of fiction in the crime, thriller, and suspense subgenres. Inspired by true events, the work is best suited to the general adult reading audience. In this exciting and intriguing murder thriller penned by author Ken Wilson, we follow the storyline of what happened to young victim Michael after his body is pulled from the water. A story of family trauma and failure to protect vulnerable children slowly unfolds for Detective Russ Wyatt as he works out how and why the murder of a ten-year-old boy could possibly take place.

Author Ken Wilson has crafted a superb work of crime fiction that also features a deep and poignant discussion of the failings of the foster care system and both juvenile and adult detention. One of the things that most impressed me about this novel was its ability to get into intricate detail without ever sensationalizing the crime or making light of it, especially as the tale is inspired by real-life events. There’s a delicacy to the balance of tension versus terror as the ugly truth about Michael’s unhappy life and difficult family situation comes to life. The pacing was also superb, laying out clues for Detective Wyatt to follow that the reader can piece together with all the anticipation of a great true crime tale and all the atmosphere of a dark and gritty novel. Overall, I would not hesitate to recommend Guilty As Sin to crime fiction fans everywhere for an impactful read that will stay with you long after you close the cover.

Philip Zozzaro

Guilty as Sin by Ken Wilson is the story of Michael Riker, who was only ten when Lora and Leroy Riker adopted him. Leroy Riker works as a correctional officer at the local prison, and Lora spends every last penny and more than Leroy earns. Their dire financial status leads to a dreadful idea forming in Lora’s mind. Lora conceives of a plan to purchase a sizable life insurance policy on Michael and cash it in once Michael falls victim to a tragic accident. Despite Leroy’s initial misgivings, he agrees. The sad accident appears fishy to law enforcement, and soon Detective Wyatt has his eyes on the Rikers as prime suspects.

Guilty as Sin is a tragic tale of unbridled greed that ends in cold-blooded murder. Ken Wilson deftly lays out the background of the crime while relaying young Michael's brief and troubled life. Lora and Leroy Riker are a despicable duo worthy of nothing but scorn for their sinister lifestyle and horrific crimes. The investigation by the police and their focus on the murderous pair as the clues begin to implicate them drive the story forward. Detective Wyatt is the virtuous contrast to the Rikers; he speaks for the dead, and his empathy for Michael and his situation motivates him. This story sometimes hits the reader with anger and sadness, but its outcome is more than satisfying. Wilson has written a top-notch mystery.