March Minireviews – Part 4

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Heartstone by Phillip Margolin – 4*

//published 1978//

I’m still working my way through Margolin’s back catalogue after the Amanda Jaffe series got me hooked on his writing.  This one was a little darker than I like, but was still just thoroughly engaging writing.  As always, my biggest complain with Margolin’s writing in general is his habit of dumping about 50 names on you in the first 50 pages without really indicating which of those names are going to be important later on.  My bookmark for a Margolin book is always an index card with names/notes on it, which is just a little ridiculous.  It  evens out as I get into the story and the main players emerge, but still.  While this isn’t one I would read again, it was definitely worth the one-time read.

On Equal Ground by Elizabeth Adams – 4*

//published 2017//

We all know that I go through kicks where all I want to read is P&P variations, and I hit a mini-kick at the end of March.  I’ve really enjoyed a couple of Adams’s other variations so I read two more lol  This was one of those ones that’s actually just a different story with the same characters.  While staying with her aunt and uncle, Elizabeth catches the eye of a wealthy widower some 20 years her senior.  Adams has them marry and love each other without it feeling creepy or weird.  Of course, the reader knows that the poor man is just a plot device, and probably the biggest drawback of this book was that I actually really liked earl and thought he and Elizabeth were a great match, and I spent the entire first half of the book dreading his untimely death.  Still, it was handled really well, and Elizabeth falling in love with Darcy felt natural and was done well.  Because Elizabeth has married an earl, she actually outranks Darcy in both class and wealth, so the big twist here is a difference in their prejudices from the original.  This wasn’t my new favorite, and it’s definitely a little more thoughtful than a lot of P&P variations tend to be, but I overall really enjoyed this one.  NB, this one didn’t have any explicit sex scenes, either, which was super nice.

The 26th of November by Elizabeth Adams – 4.5*

//published 2018//

A mashup of P&P and Groundhog Day??  Sign me up!  The best part of the Netherfield Ball from Elizabeth’s perspective – when it’s OVER!  So it’s rather unfortunately that, for some reason, she has to keep living that same day, including the dreadful ball, over and over again.  This is a very lighthearted variation, so don’t expect a lot of life philosophy, but I really enjoyed watching Elizabeth try to figure out why she is having this experience, and wondering if she’s supposed to “fix” something so that she can move on.  This was an entertaining way for her to come to grips with some her prejudices and blind spots.  Darcy isn’t living the same day over and over, but because his interaction with Elizabeth is different each time, he also has some changes of character as well.  The ending is the whole final rendition of November 26 from Darcy’s perspective, so it was a little repetitive, but still interesting to see what, from his view, was just one day.  If you’re looking for a low-angst P&P variation with some definite funny moments, this one is totally worth a read.

Pemberley: Mr. Darcy’s Dragon by Maria Grace – DNF

//published 2016//

Usually I review DNFs at the end of the month, but I feel like I’m on a P&P roll here.  I gave this one up about halfway through the story, despite loving the concept of an England full of dragons, with each estate having a dragon guardian.  However, the story itself was sooooo slow.  Everyone was spending all their time bickering and arguing (including the dragons) and Mr. Bennet was an absolutely GRUMP.  There were random chunks of the original P&P just plunked in here and there, which really disrupted the flow of the story.  I was already getting over the way no one in this version was likable, and threw in the towel when Mr. Bennet very condescendingly told Elizabeth that a man would be able to do her job better.  It was just so completely out of character for Mr. Bennet to say something so derogatory to Elizabeth, and the way he said it was just beyond insulting and rude.  Even my high tolerance for bad P&P variations was over this one.

Darcy Comes to Rosings by Andrea David – 3*

//published 2018//

Technically, this was the first book I finished in April, but like I said, I feel like I’m on a P&P roll haha  This one was a classic tale of two halves.  The first half of the story takes place at Rosings during Elizabeth’s visit to Charlotte.  However, Darcy and Elizabeth end up with a few more opportunities to converse, and Charlotte takes a much more proactive role in encouraging romance between the two.  This part of the story was really engaging and I felt like it actually totally fit Charlotte’s character as well.  But then I hit the second half, after Darcy and Elizabeth get engaged.  All of a sudden, it was page after page of Elizabeth panicking and stressing out that she’s not good/rich enough for Darcy, going on and on and on and on and on despite reassurances from everyone.  It was sooo repetitive and boring and I honestly didn’t feel like it was resolved all that well.  I just found it hard to believe that saucy, self-confident Elizabeth, who was willing to write off Darcy for being a jerk in the original, would spend so much time agonizing about her self-worth.  Lame.

May Minireviews – Part 2

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Bibi the Baker’s Horse by Anna Bird Stewart – 4*

//published 1942//

This is one of those books that I have had for so long that I no longer remember where I picked it up, and for some reason neglected to write on the flyleaf – very unusual for me.  This particular copy is a first edition and has actually been signed by the author, so that’s quite fun.  Apparently Bibi isn’t a very popular book, as it isn’t even listed on Goodreads, but I found it to be absolutely charming.  Set in France before World War I, Bibi is a small Corsican horse purchased by a baker named Jules.  The story is really more about Jules and his family than it is about Bibi, and they live a happy, peaceful life.  The biggest excitement in the story is a huge flood.  In the afterword, the author says that the entire story is true as told to her by a friend about the friends mother (or maybe grandmother, I can’t remember right now).  While not a book that strikes me as an instant classic, it was still a delightful little read.

The Treasure is the Rose by Julia Cunningham – 4*

//published 1973//

At only 105 pages, this is more of a novella than a full-length story, yet Cunningham manages to pack a great deal of thoughtfulness into her slim story.  My particular copy is an incredibly battered paperback that belonged to my mom and her sister when they were girls (frankly, the ownership has been challenged for many years between the two of them, so I solved their problem by taking it for myself).  Set in England in what I’m guess are the Middle Ages (I’m never very good at remembering the distinguishing characteristics between eras – they’re living in a crumbling down castle and the main character’s husband was killed in a crusade), the story is about Ariane, a kindhearted young widow who is determined to stay in her husband’s home, despite the fact that they are running out of money.  When three robbers stop at her house and demand food and shelter, she gives to them freely – but when the robbers hear rumors that Ariane is concealing a treasure somewhere in her castle, they decide they want more than food and are willing to do whatever it takes to get it.  The story is somewhat simplistic, and the ending is perhaps a bit too easy, but it is still a beautiful story about love and kindness conquering anger and hate.

Mr. Bennet’s Dutiful Daughter by Joana Starnes – 4*

//published 2016//

I actually really liked this version, although it was a bit more angsty than I usually prefer.  In this version, Mr. Bennet is struck ill while Elizabeth is at Hunsford, before Colonel Fitzwilliam tells her that Darcy separated Jane and Bingley, and before Darcy proposes.  When they receive the news about Mr. B., Darcy basically takes control of the situation, apologizing to Elizabeth for proposing at an awkward time, but wanting her to be under his protection and care should the worst happen.  Of course, he assumes that Elizabeth is going to agree, which fills Elizabeth with rage – but with the possibility of her family being put out on the streets, she reluctantly accepts.

While this wasn’t a very lighthearted variation, it was done really well, and the majority of the drama between Elizabeth and Darcy felt realistic to their situation.  However, at the end the drama goes a bit over the top, and then is magically solved after dragging on for way too long.  I also didn’t like the way that Mr. Bennet’s death was dealt with.  Still, overall this was a solid retelling, as I found myself very attached to the characters and wanted things to work out for them.

The Undertaker’s Widow by Phillip Margolin – 3.5*

//published 1998//

I’ve read quite a few of Margolin’s books at this point, and have found him to be a pretty solid crime/law thriller writer.  This one wasn’t my favorite, but did have a lot of fun twists and turns.  My usual mild aggravation with Margolin’s work was at play here – he simply introduces too many characters, ignores them for chapters, and then reintroduces them without reminding the reader of who they are.  He’s the only author I have to consistently write down the names of characters and their connections in order to keep them straight.

This particular book also lost a half star because of another pet peeve of mine – where we are specifically told that a character has information necessary to figure out what is going on with the mystery, but not allowed to actually know that information.  So it would be something like, “Once he told the detective about his suspicions concerning the blood splatter, they both knew they had to do something” – but I don’t get to know what those suspicions are until literal chapters later during a courtroom scene when the evidence is introduced.  This happened a LOT in this book and was really annoying.

Indiscretion by Jude Morgan – 5*

//published 2005//

I hadn’t read this book in several years, and it was an absolute delight to delve back into it again.  The main character, Caroline, is just so funny and nice, and I really appreciate the way that she wants to be a better person.  I also liked that when she ended up in the country living a quite life, she didn’t get bored and irritated with her life, but instead was able to appreciate the stability and restfulness of it, even though it was very different to what she was used to.  The dialogue is hilarious, and the plot just convoluted/coincidental enough to keep things lively.  I’ve read this book a few times, so you can read earlier reviews here and here if you are interested in more of a synopsis-type review, but for here suffice to say that this book is just as happy and funny as I remember.

Gone, But Not Forgotten // by Phillip Margolin

//published 1993//

A man comes home from work, and his wife is missing.  On their bed is a rose, dyed black, and a note that says, “Gone, But Not Forgotten.”  She’s the third woman to disappear in this manner, and the Portland police still have no idea where they are.  The crime scenes are clean.  No bodies have been found.  There are no real clues or leads… until one evening a woman, claiming to be a detective from Hunter’s Point, New York, shows up at the home of Portland’s DA with an incredible story.

This is the third of Margolin’s stand alone books that I’ve read.  My first introduction to his writing was through the fantastic Amanda Jaffe series.  Margolin has a knack for writing addictive crime thrillers that keep me turning the pages even during the courtroom scenes, which I frequently find dull in the hands of less talented authors.  Margolin was a criminal attorney, so those parts of his story always ring true, and I love the way that he is unafraid to discuss the moral complexity of defending criminals.

My main consistent frustration with Margolin’s books is the way that he starts them: by introducing about 57 people in the first 20 pages, with no particularly indications as to which characters are going to be important in the future.  Like yes, a few of them are obvious, but some not so much.  Here are the people we meet, by name, in the first couple of pages of Gone, But Not Forgotten (in order of appearance):

  • Alfred Neff, judge
  • Betsy Tannenbaum, attorney
  • Walter Korn, retired welder and jury spokesperson
  • Andrea Hammermill, defendant
  • Randy Highsmith, prosecutor
  • Martin Darius, jerk
  • Russ Miller, regular dude
  • Vicky Miller, wife of Russ
  • Frank Valcroft, Russ’s boss
  • Stuart Webb, account executive at Russ’s job

Those people are all in chapter one, fifteen pages.  Chapter two is still introducing people/threads.  It’s super fun to see all these apparently not-connected individuals and see how their lives start to come together, but it is also a confusing information dump, and I almost always end up getting a scrap of paper and writing notes, because if Margolin mentions Russ Miller on page 128, he doesn’t do a particularly good job reminding you who he is.

But once I get through the initial introductions, and people start to slot into place, Margolin’s books always pick up the pace and drag me along, and this one was no different.  This is one of those crafty novels where you get a lot of the information, so it’s more of a how than a who… sort of.

This book was more violent than some of Margolin’s others that I have read.  The main bad guy was a genuine creepy psychopath, and this really wasn’t the best book to stay up until midnight finishing, because then I just laid there with mind going in circles and also feeling completely creeped out by this guy.  On the other hand, I literally couldn’t just go to bed and stayed up late finishing this one, so even though in many ways this was only a 3.5* read for me, I bumped it up to a 4* in the end because it was so addictive.

While Gone, But Not Forgotten wasn’t my favorite Margolin book, and it’s not where I would start if you’re new to his writing, it was still an intense, engaging thriller that had me completely engrossed.  I’m still working my way through Margolin’s backlog, and so far he hasn’t disappointed me.

After Dark // by Phillip Margolin

//published 1995//

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*.

Woman With a Gun // by Phillip Margolin

//published 2014//

Last fall I had the pleasure of reading through Margolin’s Amanda Jaffe series.  The series as a whole was an easy 4/5 for me, and I really enjoyed them.  Unfortunately, Margolin has written several other novels, so enjoying those books meant that multiple titles got added to the TBR, and Woman With a Gun is the first of them I’ve read.

I really liked the pacing of this story.  We start in 2015 with Stacey, who is trying to write a novel but is feeling rather uninspired.  To pay the bills, she’s working as a legal assistant and finds it soul-suckingly boring.  (Aside: I empathize!)  On lunch one day she stops to see an art exhibit, but is drawn to a series of photographs.  When she sees the photograph that’s on the cover of this book, she is completely enamored – she can see an entire story waiting to be told.

The next section tells us the story of the photograph – the Cahill case from 2005.  A strange and mysterious murder that was never satisfactorily resolved…

I have mixed feelings about books that jump backward and forward in time, but Margolin handles it very well in this one.  I really liked that instead of using flashbacks or alternating chapters, large chunks of book are in one time before switching to another – there are only actually five parts to the  book: 2015, 2005, 2000, 2005, 2015 – which also works very well, as we slowly work our way back in time to understand what is going on, and then forward in time to find resolution.

The story was quite gripping, and I was lucky enough to start this on a lazy Sunday, and read it pretty much all in one go.  I was completely engrossed in the tale and anxious to find out who the killer really was.  It’s really a rather small circle of possibilities, which made the guessing even more engaging.

It did seem like Stacey’s love story part was rather hasty – an almost instalove vibe – and the ending, while satisfying, was still a bit bittersweet.

All in all, Woman With a Gun was an easy 4/5, and confirmed for me that I definitely need to continue working through Margolin’s books.

#11 for #20BooksofSummer!!!

(#10 will appear in this month’s minireviews at the end of July!)

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

wild-justice

//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!