I was first introduced to Margolin’s writing when I randomly won an entire set of his books – the Amanda Jaffe series, which I read and reviewed at the end of 2016. I was really impressed with them. I liked the characters, the pacing was good, and it was interesting to read books where one of the main characters is actually a criminal defense lawyer – so someone sticking up for the bad guys. Anyway, Margolin has quite a few stand-alone books that I added to my TBR at the time. After Dark is only the second one to come up for me – I read Woman With a Gun last year and thoroughly enjoyed it.
This story is about Abigail, a very successful prosecutor for the DA. She and her husband, who is a justice for the Oregon Supreme Court, are in the midst of a rather unpleasant divorce. At the beginning of the book, Abigail finds out that a man she had had convicted two years ago has now been released, thanks to a decision reversal during the appeals process – a decision in which her soon-to-be-ex-husband penned the opinion for the majority.
Meanwhile, the now-free criminal, who definitely did brutally murder the people he was convicted of killing, is free and clear with revenge on his mind.
We also meet Matthew, a criminal defense attorney passionate about fighting death penalty cases. He works long, arduous hours and has almost no life outside of his work. He hires Tracy, who has just completed her internship as a clerk for the state supreme court and is now a full-fledged attorney, eager to learn from one of the best in the business.
When Abigail’s husband is murdered, and Abigail is accused, she hires Matthew to defend her. As all the characters start to come together, the many layers of the plot become obvious.
Honestly, I’ve been reading a lot of books lately that aren’t terrible but aren’t really amazing, and leave me feeling kind of meh when I’m finished. It had been a while since I started reading a book that I just couldn’t put down, so I was extra excited about the way I was drawn into After Dark. I stayed up past my bedtime to find out how everything came together, and just when it seemed like all had been explained, except for a few niggling little threads – Margolin flipped everything again and even tied up those niggling threads. I loved it!
The pacing is excellent, and Margolin does a great job of making multiple characters likable, but not necessarily trustworthy. He also provides the readers with the clues they need for the most part – I love it when I finish a book and immediately want to go back and reread now that I have the key! Throughout, I thought I know whodunit, but there were just enough red herrings to keep me doubting my instincts.
The actual writing in this book is quite good. There were passages that really struck a chord. Matthew explaining to Tracy how he has never had to visit a client after dark (e.g. before their execution) honestly gave me chills.
I also really liked how this book made me think about the death penalty. It’s one of those subjects that I go back and forth on, able to see both sides of the issue and not really positive about how I feel. The arguments Matthew presents against it are very strong and thought-provoking, without being preachy. On the other hand, you have the released criminal in this book, and you can’t help but think that Abigail’s reasons for wanting this guy dead are also pretty solid.
Margolin actually worked for fifteen or so years as a defense attorney in Oregon, and that comes through in his writing. The court scenes are excellent – all the pertinent information delivered in a manner that is taut and intense rather than dry. The overwhelming amount of time spent doing research and legwork isn’t glossed over (but also isn’t drawn out). The interplay between various characters is a strong reminder of how much our legal system is actually based on human emotions and whether or not someone is having a bad day…
There were a few minor negatives. I’ve consistently found Margolin to be rather poor at writing the love-story aspect, and this book was no exception. Both of those plots felt very insta-love-y and not completely believable. There were just a couple of scenes where the violence was a bit much for me (the released criminal is a serious psychopath). And in the end, I wanted a bit more resolution for Abigail – I felt like her life was left a little open-ended after everything that had happened.
But all in all, this is a solid 4* read, possibly 4.5*.