Violent Crimes // by Phillip Margolin

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//published 2016//

So here we have what is, at this point, the final book in the Amanda Jaffe series.  I sincerely hope that Margolin will take up these characters again, as I have greatly enjoyed all of these books.  And I would like to say, once again, a sincere thank you to the publisher for giving away the entire series.  I was under no obligation to review these books in exchange for winning the giveaway, but reading and reviewing them has been entirely my pleasure nonetheless.

This is an intriguing story with many threads.  When an rich businessman is murdered, his son confesses to the crime.  Amanda, as his defense lawyer, isn’t convinced that her client is telling the truth – but why would be admit to killing someone if he didn’t actually do the killing?  Meanwhile, another man Amanda has recently defended has violated his parole restrictions and is on the lam – has he finally snapped, or does he have a good reason?  Is he possibly connected to the businessman’s death?

While several of the other books in this series have Amanda almost as more of a recurring character rather than the protagonist, she takes the top role in this story.  In this book, there isn’t much of the lengthy backstories that we’ve had in some of the other books, which led to a tighter, faster pacing that was much more action-oriented.  There was also more of a “thriller” sense to the story, as I wasn’t entirely sure who I could trust and who was lying.

I also liked the further development of Amanda’s relationship with her boyfriend, although I kind of missed Amanda’s dad as he didn’t show much in this story.  I love the way that the big criminal boss that Amanda and her dad helped in the first book is now a recurring character who plays a part in every story.

For me, the weirdest part about this book was its ending.  The actual case was wrapped up very satisfactorily.  However, in the end, Amanda wonders if one of her clients was, in fact, actually guilty of one of the murders.  I’m going to quote the way this book ends but without the names so it won’t be a spoiler.  X is the client Amanda thinks may have been guilty after all.

Frank [Amanda’s dad] shrugged.  …  “You’re never going to know [if X is guilty] unless you confront [X], and you have no reason – other than curiosity – to do that.  Let sleeping dogs lie.  There’s no reason to wake them up.”

Frank and Amanda dropped the subject and turned the conversation to more pleasant topics.  Amanda put up a good front, but she brooded all the way home.  In the end, she decided that her father was right.  [Murder victim] was evil and [X] might very well be innocent.  And he was her client, so the only purpose that would be served by pursuing this question would be the satisfaction of her curiosity.

After a fitful night, Amanda drove to the office and worked on a brief that she was filing in an assault case.  Then she read the investigative reports in a rape case.  Later that day a new client hired her and provided her with another distraction.  By the time she went home, she had forgotten about [X] – almost.

?!?!?!?  This just seemed like a very strange way to end this book.  I legit flipped the page expecting to see another chapter or something.  So weird.

All in all, a very solid entry to the series, though.  4/5 for this book and for the series (thus far) as a whole.  I thoroughly enjoyed all of them, and hope that Margolin decides to add another entry soon.

Fugitive // by Phillip Margolin

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//published 2009//

I’ve really enjoy the Amanda Jaffe series so far, and was looking forward to reading Fugitive.  While this one was a little more coincidence-based than the others, it was still a solid and engaging mystery.

This story centers around Charlie Marsh.  A small-time con-man, he struck it big when he capitalized on a heroic moment, turning himself into Gabriel Day and traveling about to sell his message of Inner Light – which, conveniently, lots of women liked to hear.  When one of Charlie’s lover’s husbands is shot, Charlie and the wife become the prime suspects.  Charlie flees the country and takes refuge in a small Africa country that doesn’t have extradition with the US.

All of this takes place a dozen years before our real story starts.  Unfortunately for Charlie, the ruler of the African country where Charlie is hiding is a really horrible person who rules with fear and torture.  In the present day, Charlie runs afoul of the ruler.  Knowing that he is going to be tortured and killed, Charlie arranges an escape from Africa, heading back to the States to face the music there instead.

Overall, Fugitive did a very good job tying the two timelines together.  For me, the main problem was that it was hard to really impress that twelve years had gone by.  None of the people have really changed all that much – they were adults then and are adults now, and no one’s character really seems to have undergone a big change in the intervening years.

While the thriller aspect was intense and the story was paced well, this book leaned a bit more on coincidences than some of the earlier titles in the series.  Also, Margolin enlisted the writing method of having a crucial piece of evidence that people in the story know about but the reader doesn’t, which is kind of annoying when it is super flagrant like it was in this instance.  There were multiple references to a picture, but we aren’t allowed to find out who/what is in the picture until the big reveal in the end – which makes it a little difficult to solve the mystery!

There were also two instances of someone getting a phone call in the middle of the night and then haring off to meet someone without letting anyone know where they were going!  Two!  Seriously!  You think people would learn after what happened the first time, but apparently not.  (The second time the person takes a gun as though this will automatically mean they will have no problems at the rendezvous.  Sheesh.)

All in all, I really did enjoy Fugitive, but not quite as much as the others, so I think it’s more of a 3/5.   Only one more book in the series, which makes me kind of sad.  I’m not sure if Margolin is going to continue with these characters or not – Violent Crimes was just published this year, so it’s taken him sixteen years to get these five books out.  Unfortunately for my TBR, Margolin has written several other books, all of which will need to be read eventually… oh dear.

Proof Positive // by Phillip Margolin

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//published 2007//

I really, really enjoyed the third book in the Amanda Jaffe series – it may be my favorite that I have read so far.  I got almost nothing useful done when I was reading this book because I couldn’t put it down!

Question for you:  If you knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that someone had committed a terrible crime, and you knew that the only way that this person would be punished for his crime was if you were willing to lie under oath, would you be willing to commit that perjury, when telling the truth means that a perpetrator gets off free?

The crazy thing about this book is that we know from almost the very beginning who the bad guy is – and yet it did not relieve the tension a single iota.  Instead, I found myself basically bouncing in my chair when people are talking with this guy, begging them to see through his veneer.  People die because of this guy, and Margolin does a really great joy of making him believable as a villain, but also believable that people wouldn’t see his villainy – I completely bought the fact that people were trusting this guy, and I also completely bought the idea that he has become unhinged, convinced that his lies are for the greater good, and that protecting those lies – no matter the cost – is also for the greater good.

I really enjoy the reintroduction of characters from earlier books, especially two of the bad guys who have been with us from the first book.  Amanda’s dad has represented them on multiple occasions, and they did him a favor in the last book – and collect on it in this one.  Their characters are done quite well.

Once again, I really enjoy these crime procedurals, with minimal swearing, violence, and sex.  It’s almost like Margolin realizes that a good story and strong characters are what make a book realistic and enjoyable, not mindless f*ing, gore, and shagging.  Brilliant.  I love it.  Don’t get me wrong – there is a little bit of all three of those components, but they are seasoning, not the main course – as they should be.

I do feel like Amanda herself could have been a stronger player in this story.  In many ways, she was sort of a background person.  This happened in the last book, where Kerrigan’s story ended up overshadowing Amanda’s.  In this book, a great deal of time is spent on another defense attorney, Doug Weaver.  And Doug is a great character and his story is a good one, but if you have a theoretical main character of the series, it seems as though she ought to be a bit more…  main.

But that’s a fairly minor quibble.  The truth of the matter is, I thoroughly enjoyed every page of this book.  I had trouble reading it fast enough.  I already have a problem where I basically read while I’m doing…  well, almost everything.  This book got read while I was cooking supper, making the bed, vacuuming, feeding the chickens, walking to the post office…  it was pretty intense.

This puts me at the halfway mark for this series, and so far, I highly recommend it.  This book was a definite 4/5, and I’m pretty stoked about delving into the next book.

Ties That Bind // by Phillip Margolin

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//published 2003//

A couple of weeks ago I read the first book in Margolin’s Amanda Jaffe series, Wild Justice.  It was a very solid outing and I was excited/a little scared about reading the second.  But there was no need to fear – Ties That Bind was another gripping tale that had me flying through the pages.

It’s been around a year since the events from Wild Justice. Since then, Amanda has had some trouble readjusting.  Suffering from PTSD, Amanda hasn’t taken on any other cases centered on violent crimes since the Cardoni case.  When the story opens, she is beginning to realize that she needs to start dealing with her fears instead of just hiding from them.  Little does she know that she is going to get a boost back into the saddle in a big way…

Jon Dupre is a pretty scuzzy guy.  He runs what is basically an upscale brothel.  He’s been in and out of the judicial system for years, usually managing to stay just as far into the gray as he can without actually getting sent to prison.  But this time is different – this time, he’s been accused of murdering a state senator.  When Amanda ends up on Dupre’s case, he tells her a story that she struggles to believe – a story about a group of powerful, secretive men who basically do whatever they want, including buying political offices, dealing drugs, and illegal trading activities.  Amanda is skeptical at first, but when the evidence starts to pile up, she finds herself wondering if – for once – Dupre may be telling the truth.

The whole deal with this secret gang of men who are completely respectable on the outside lend a great layer of tension to this story, because you have no idea who you can trust.  I was constantly waiting for betrayal from…  well, basically everyone.  Margolin builds it all in a very plausible way, and his bad guys are really just fantastic.  The twists were completely believable.

I would venture that there are really two main characters to this book.  While we’re following Amanda throughout, we already know a lot of her background and baggage from the first book, so a lot of the beginning of the book deals with Tim Kerrigan, a county prosecutor.  Kerrigan ended up being a really interesting character.  He had a lot of demons, but it never felt over-the-top.

A couple of things keep this book at a 4/5 level for me.  This book did manage to avoid gratuitous violence, for which I am extremely grateful; however, there was a lot of more sex than I like.  It wasn’t really graphic, but there were just a lot (lot) of sentences like, “he found himself growing hard as he watched her breasts” and shizznizz like that that I’m basically like, Please just stop.  I guess the fact that we were dealing with prostitutes probably had something to do with it, but still.  Although in fairness, like I said, the violence was fairly minimal for this type of book, and the language is actually pretty clean, which I think is great.  I don’t mind some swearing when it fits into the story, but some authors seem to think that the only way they can portray “gritty” is by having their characters f*** everything.  Show some creativity, people.  Sheesh.

Anyway, the only other thing about this book was just the sheer volume of names to track.  I actually started a list on a blank sheet in the back of the book, and ended up with 24 names.  The thing is, I don’t know if these people are going to be important.  Margolin casually mentions a name, and then four chapters later is like, “Richard Curtis walked into the room.”  And I have no idea who Richard Curtis is because I haven’t seen him in four chapters.  Writing them down did help, because then when I thought I remembered who someone was, I could confirm it.  Some of the people I wrote down we never heard from again, because Margolin also has a habit of telling the reader the names of everyone, including people that I am only going to hear from for about three paragraphs.

But if I’m honest, these are picky things.  On the whole, this book kept me 100% engaged.  I was so intrigued to see how things were going to unwind.  I really like Amanda, and Kerrigan was also a great character.  I’m quite interested to see where this series goes next.

Wild Justice // by Phillip Margolin

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//published 2000//

All the way back in the spring, I randomly entered a Sweepstakes sponsored by HarperCollins, giving away all five of the Amanda Jaffe books in order to celebrate the release of the latest in the series, Violent Crimes.  And somehow – I was one of the winners!!!  Even though winning the books didn’t come with any kind of obligation to review them, it’s just kind of what I do with books that I read, so even though it’s been six months since I received them, I am finally getting around to reading – and reviewing – this series.  A special thank you to the publisher for giving me these books!!

What really happened was I started to read Mark Billingham’s Tom Thorne series.  I really enjoyed Sleepyheadand started to read the second book, Copy Cat, in the early spring.  But I just couldn’t get through that book.  There was too much gruesomeness, with a perpetrator who focused on torture and it was just too, too much for me.  I don’t enjoy reading violent descriptions.  Point is, I abandoned Tom Thorne and retreated to safety: Agatha Christie.  And I’ve been reading all of Christie’s stand-alone mysteries ever since.  I thought about putting those on pause and jumping into the Amanda Jaffe books…  but I was kind of scared.  What if they were violent and terrifying??  So they’ve just been sitting there…

But I finished with Christie and, out of excuses, started to read Wild Justice – and it was fantastic.  Honestly, I was drawn in immediate by the quote at the beginning of the book, from Francis Bacon – “Revenge is a kind of wild justice.”  I absolutely love that line, and it really set the tone for the entire story.

Amanda has finished law school and come back to Portland to join her father’s criminal defense firm.  Although she is young, Amanda is intelligent and a quick learner.  She loves her father – a widower – and is excited to work with him doing the work he loves.  But I really enjoyed the fact that Amanda was still wrestling throughout the story with whether or not criminal defense was the direction she wanted to go with her life.  There was also a lot of growing in the relationship between Amanda and her dad.  I liked that they had a good relationship, but that that didn’t mean that things were perfect all the time.

The story really picks up when a surgeon, Dr. Cardoni, is arrested for murder – and not just any murder – a gruesome, torture scene.  (Although, thankfully, mostly off-screen with vague details – a few scenes that made me uncomfortable – one in particular – but overall not too bad.)  Amanda’s father has represented Cardoni before (although not for homicide).  Even though Amanda and her dad – and basically everyone else – are convinced that Cardoni is guilty, they work hard to defend him (which leads to a lot of those conversations/thoughts about whether or not this is really what Amanda wants to do with her life – all of which I thought was handled really well).

There are a lot of threads going on in this story.  Margolin’s choice to go with a third person narrative, however, enables us, as the reader, to know more about what is happening than Amanda does.  Most of the time this works really well, although there were moments that I found myself thinking Amanda was rather thick – only to remember that it was because she didn’t actually know something that I did, if that makes sense.

One of the things that I liked about Amanda is that she was single for much of the book and that she was okay with that – but also not okay with that.  Being single can be a weird thing.  While you are content with who you are as a person and recognize that you don’t need someone else to be complete, there is still something really wonderful about the companionship and comfort that comes from a secure relationship.  And, as you get older and all your friends pair off, it feels awkward sometimes to be the not-couple friend.  As someone who didn’t get married until the age of 27 (and spent most of my 20’s single), I felt like Margolin captured that balance in Amanda’s character.

Amanda buttered her toast at the kitchen table.  While she sipped her milk she took stock of her life.  On the whole she was happy.  Her career was going well, she had money in the bank and a place she loved to live in, but she was lonely at times.  Two of her girlfriends had married during the past year, and she was beginning to feel isolated.  Couples went out with couples.  Soon there would be children to occupy their time.  Amanda sighed.  She didn’t feel incomplete without a man.  It was more a question of companionship.  Just having someone to talk to, who would be around to share her triumphs and help her up when she fell.

While the ending was satisfying, there were still a few loose threads that I would have liked to have seen taken care of.  Most of the circumstances were explained, but not all.  So while I definitely agreed that the conclusion was the logical one, I would have still liked to have seen the rest of the red herrings cleared up.

Still, Wild Justice was thoroughly engaging and a confident 4/5.  I really like Amanda and her dad and am interested to read the next book.  Hopefully it manages to stay on the conservative side of the gruesome line as well!